Hospital Study Offers Solutions to 'Alarm Fatigue'

2.5 million beeps, bleeps sounded in one month at one U.S. medical center

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Monitoring devices among intensive care patients set off 2.5 million alarms in one month at a U.S. hospital, a new study of "alarm fatigue" shows.

Alarm fatigue occurs when hospital staff become desensitized to the constant beeps and bleeps of alarms, and either ignore them or turn them off. The problem has been identified as a major issue by The Joint Commission, which accredits U.S. hospitals.

"There have been news stories about patient deaths due to hospital staff silencing cardiac monitor alarms and alerts from federal agencies warning about alarm fatigue," study senior author Barbara Drew, a professor in physiological nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a university news release.

"However, there have been little data published on the topic to inform clinicians about what to do about the problem. Our study is the first to shed light on cardiac monitor alarm frequency, accuracy, false alarm causes and strategies to solve this important clinical problem," she explained.

The researchers analyzed data from 461 adults treated in five ICUs at UCSF Medical Center over 31 days and found that more than 2.5 million alarms were sounded by the patients' monitoring equipment.

That included more than 1.1 million alarms about heart rhythm problems, of which nearly 89 percent were false alarms caused by computer algorithm errors.

"Nurses and patients are barraged by a staggering number of monitor alarms that could be resolved by improved computer algorithms," Drew said. "Our results shed light on the high prevalence of alarms that are mostly false and provide insights into the causes of so many false alarms, along with suggestions for device improvement."

The study was published Oct. 22 in the journal PLoS One.

More information

The Joint Commission has more about medical alarm safety.

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