A recent study by the Joint Commission raises an alarm about death and injury resulting from alarm fatigue experienced by those caring for critically ill patients.

The Joint Commission is a non-profit healthcare accreditation agency with a mandate to improve public health care. A recent report calls for leadership and development of guidelines in the area of alarm management based on points that include the following:

  • Medical devices in healthcare settings are ubiquitous. Some devices make noise during normal use, some to alert of malfunction, others to alert of a sudden patient problem. The report notes the care of one patient may entail hundreds of alarm signals per day. The continued sounding of alarms leads healthcare providers to disregard some signals, reprogram machines to remain quiet, or ignore the signals altogether.
  • Between January 2009 and June 2012, the Joint Commission received reports of 98 alarm events, 80 that resulted in death, 13 in permanent injury, and five in complications requiring additional medical care. Of these emergencies, 94 occurred in hospitals, primarily in intensive care, emergency departments and other areas.
  • Reported events involved inaudible alerts, alerts that had been turned off, inadequate alarms or devices with improper alarm settings.

The Joint Commission recommends development of strategies, education and planning to address this clearly deadly turn of events in medical care. In any healthcare setting, be sure you have a friend or family act as a medical advocate and if injured, seek reputable legal help.