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Hospitals Must Make Alarm Management a Patient Safety Priority

Alarms in hospitals are used to alert a patient’s health care team that action is required. However, studies have found that patient alarms are so frequent in hospitals that nurses and other health professionals begin to tune them out. This phenomenon is referred to as “alarm fatigue.”

As San Diego medical malpractice lawyers, we are pleased that the Joint Commission, a non-profit organization tasked with accrediting and certifying more than 19,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States, has made alarm management one of its key safety goals for 2016. Starting this year, hospitals must also establish new clinical alarm guidelines aimed to make certain that alarms on medical equipment are heard and responded to on time.

As noted by the Joint Commission, “Alarms are intended to alert caregivers of potential patient problems, but if they are not properly managed, they can compromise patient safety. There is general agreement that this is an important safety issue.”

Under the new guidelines, health care facilities must establish alarm management as a priority, create a formal policy, and provide training for staff. Hospitals are also required to identify the most important alarm signals by assessing the risk to patients if staff members don’t respond to an alarm right away, or if the alarm malfunctions.

Given the increased attention on hospital alarms, we are hopeful that hospitals, nurses, medical device companies, and regulatory authorities will take steps to address alarm fatigue and related safety concerns. In the meantime, there are steps that you can take if you or a loved one is being treated in the hospital.

  • Never turn off an alarm. If an alarm is sounding, wait for a nurse to evaluate the situation. If no one comes in a short amount of time, go seek help.
  • Pay attention for signs that something might be wrong such as changes in color, pain, or breathing.
  • Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask nurses what the different alarms mean, particularly which ones are most important.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to an alarm management error or other serious medical mistake, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.