I was cooking a BIG meal – one with several burners going, the oven on, and even the microwave. It was one of those “Martha Stewart has nothing on me moments.” (Ok, I was really more like a I'm a tall version of Rachel Ray) There were 4 boys running in and out asking questions and trying to “help” - other kitchen noises like the garbage disposal, can opener, food processor plus of course the TV was on in the other room. It was loud - like the Chiefs Stadium when we beat the Chargers on Monday night – LOUD! The point is I had a lot going on and neglected to set the egg timer for one of my pans and ignored the beeping on the oven……all of this to say we ended up eating at Culvers that night.
My kitchen scenario is much LESS intense than a nursing floor. No one was critically ill, there were no emotionally distraught family members, there was no Code Blue – it was a kitchen. (Well, the food was critically ill by the end of it – I digress) The point is think about your most intense - loud - busy moments and then think of how much more intense - loud - and busy the nurse is and you will begin to understand “Alarm Fatigue”.
On a floor with 30 patients with IV pumps, nurse call, telemetry, other physiological alarms, etc there is bound to be some noise. The current methodology of listening for an alarm can really hinder productivity – but leave productivity out of it – it is a major safety concern.
Let’s take an easy one - Do you know the most common way we document a response to an IV pump alarm? The patient has pressed their call button and the nurse is notified that the IV Pump was dinging in their room. Think about how scary that is for a patient and their family – who has no idea what the dining means. Do you know the most inexpensive way to fix that problem? Automate an IV pump alarm to the caregivers wireless and explain to the patient and their family what will happen if the alarm goes off. (BTW – repeat that information every time you enter the room for rounding.)
Here’s a freebie - Depending on your nurse call system there is generally a quarter inch jack that can take a contact closure alarm – old school – this is the way my Dad did it when he sold nurse call in the early 1980’s. Order the cord you can use it tomorrow in your hospital. IF you have a question (hospital) – call or email me I will walk you through it. There are much more expensive ways to automate these as well.
The challenge is at some point in alarm automation and “management” you simply begin to displace the problem. If a clinical alarm device is trigger happy then your wireless device will be as well. Too many alarms is still TOO MANY ALARMS – just because it’s quieter on the unit does not mean its better. At some point it’s time to really review the technology that is making the alarm happen, AND review the process of who is getting what alarm when and why. The event in Boston was not due to the alarm noise, really it wasn’t even due to accountability because no one “heard” the alarm. The Critical alarm was turned off and the Warning alarms were ignored. Some automation would’ve helped the issue but it may not have solved.
Patient safety officials across the country have said the heart patient’s death at Mass. General shines a spotlight on a national problem with heart sensors and other ubiquitous patient monitoring devices. Numerous deaths have been reported because of alarm fatigue, as beeps are ignored or go unheard, or because monitors are accidentally turned off or purposely disabled by staff who find the noise aggravating. ()http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/04/03/alarm_fatigue_linked_to_heart_patients_death_at_mass_general/?page=1
It’s tragic that a death occurred due to an alarm issue, and no family should have to go through that. That death should be a rally point for all of us in the device industry.
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