Patient alarms often unheard, unheeded

The Boston Globe, February 14, 2011
The deaths of more than 200 hospital patients nationwide between January 2005 and June 2010 were linked to problems with alarms on patient monitors that track heart function, breathing, and other vital signs, according to an investigation by The Boston Globe. The problem typically wasn't a broken device. In many cases it was because medical personnel didn't react with urgency or didn't notice the alarm. They call it "alarm fatigue." Monitors help save lives, by alerting doctors and nurses that a patient is --- or soon could be --- in trouble. But with the use of monitors rising, their beeps can become so relentless, and false alarms so numerous, that nurses become desensitized --- sometimes leaving patients to die without anyone rushing to their bedside. On a 15-bed unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, staff documented an average of 942 alarms per day --- about 1 critical alarm every 90 seconds.

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