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Alarm Fatigue? What a Nuisance!


 

The alarm problem

“Hospital staff are exposed to an average of 350 alarms per bed per day, based on a sample from an intensive care unit at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.”[1]

Survey says

From the same survey, almost 9 in 10 hospitals indicated they would increase their use of patient monitoring, particularly of Capnography and pulse oximetry, if false alarms could be reduced.[2]

“Of those hospitals surveyed that monitor some or all patients with pulse oximetry or Capnography, more than 65 percent have experienced positive results in terms of either a reduction in overall adverse events or in reduction of costs.”[3]

Attenuating alarm data, and alarm fatigue

The problem with attenuating alarm data is achieving the balance between communicating the essential, patient-safety specific information that will provide proper notification to clinical staff while minimizing the excess, spurious and non-emergent events that are not indicative of a threat to patient safety. In the absence of contextual information, the option is usually to err on the side of excess because the risk of missing an emergent alarm or notification carries with it the potential for high cost (e.g.: patient harm or death).

The purpose of this study (downloadable here) is to look at the mathematics and some of the techniques and options available for evaluating real-time data. The objective is to suggest a dialog for further research and investigation into the use of such techniques as appropriate. Clearly, patient safety, regulatory, staff fatigue and other factors must be taken into account in terms of aligning on a best approach or practice (if one can even be identified). These aspects of alarm fatigue are intentionally omitted from the discussion at this point (to be taken up at another time) so that a pure study of the physics of the parameter data and techniques for analyzing can be explored.

References

[1] Ilene MacDonald, “Hospitals rank alarm fatigue as top patient safety concern”, Fierce Healthcare. January 22, 2014.

[2] Wong, Michael; Mabuyi, Anuj; Gonzalez, Beverly; “First National Survey of Patient-Controlled Analgesia Practices.” March-April 2013, A Promise to Amanda Foundation and the Physician-Patient Alliance for Health & Safety.

[3] Ibid.

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