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Monitor alarms alone, not enough to keep patients safe

When someone is a patient at a hospital many individuals interact with them in the course of their stay. These individuals do things such as perform procedures, administer tests, check vitals and disburse medication. Of all of those individuals, it is nurses who spend the most time with the patients. Because each nurse has multiple patients to attend to however, they are not able to be with them all the time. To help keep tabs on the patients they cannot be with, certain Pennsylvania hospitals use monitors with alarms that sound when certain things fall out of ranges considered as normal.

For a variety of reasons these alarms often do not accomplish what is intended. Sometimes this is due to “alarm fatigue” that results when nurses who have been accustomed to false alarms, block out the sound or simply ignore it. Other times, in an effort to stop the constant noise associated with many machines, the sound may be turned down.

The latter reason was apparently to blame for the death of a Pennsylvania teen in 2012 after she had her tonsils removed. The 17-year-old girl was apparently connected to a respiratory monitor that had been turned down. When a strong painkiller she was given following the procedure caused her breathing to slow, nurses could not hear the alarm sounding. The lack of oxygen led to brain damage and ultimately her death.

The ECRI Institute indicates that this is not an isolated incident. The organization, which focuses on patient safety, has declared that issues with hospital alarms are the biggest technological problem in the field of healthcare.

Most would agree that measures to prevent such senseless injuries and deaths should be taken. In the meantime however, those who have experienced such issues should be aware that they could file a medical malpractice lawsuit regarding the matter.

Source: Washington Post, “Too much noise from hospital alarms poses risk for patients,” Lena H. Sun, June 7, 2013

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