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What is hospital alarm fatigue?

You may find that even though you are in the hospital in New York to get well, the medical equipment around you frequently makes noises that keep you from resting. Alarms and alerts are essential for letting your health care providers know what you need, but they could also put you in danger. The professional journal American Nurse Today explains how.

The nurses who are monitoring your health understand that between 85 and 95 percent of the alarms do not indicate necessary actions. As they go through their day, that high number of alarms desensitizes them to the noise and flashing lights that may—but in their experience probably do not—indicate that you need immediate assistance.

There are several contributors to false alarms. The settings on the equipment may not be adjusted to your specific needs. System thresholds may be too tight, or the device may malfunction. Fatigue may also occur because manufacturers of equipment fail to consider what other machines are likely to be used, and the result may be a confusing mix of controls and noises that staff has difficulty interpreting. Nurses may have a hard time identifying where the alert is coming from, as a result.

Research indicates that the solutions to eliminating alarm fatigue and the potential for adverse events may have to be addressed at the facility level rather than through the frontline staff. For example, hospital equipment should be maintained, a process developed to manage systems and parameters adjusted correctly for the specific area of use and the individual patient. This information is intended to educate you about alarm fatigue, but it is general in nature, and should not be considered medical or legal advice.

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