Safety

How to get rid of 600,000 alarms per week

Hospital Safety Insider, March 13, 2014

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Alarms can be a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, we can’t live without them. They wake us up in the morning, they let us know when our toast is done, and they tell when we have a new email. And in a hospital, alarms can literally save lives—a beep or other audible signal can alert a physician or nurse to a dangerous dip in a patient’s blood pressure or heart rate.

Since 2008, Boston Medical Center (BMC) has been studying the problem of so-called “alarm fatigue,” and starting in August 2012, the hospital implemented new procedures for handling alarms on one of the hospital’s 24-bed cardiac units. Among the changes implemented: Alarm defaults were altered, staff began to recognize and respond only to high-priority alarms, and nurses were given more flexibility to change alarm settings depending on patients’ individual care needs.

Hospital administrators noticed a striking reduction in medical device alarms almost immediately: approximately 78,000 per week. As a result, the changes were implemented in all surgical and medical units at the hospital, leading to a total reduction of about 600,000 alarms—from 1 million a week to 400,000.

Check out the March issue of Briefings on Hospital Safety for this and other stories.

 



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