Website spotlight: Technology overload: An alarming danger

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, March 25, 2011

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The telltale noise of a hospital is the bleeps, the sweeps, and the creeps of the many machines hospital patients are hooked up to during their stay. These machines have alarms—as many as 400 per patient—and many are important. They alert staff if a patient needs immediate care.

But those alarms can become such an ingrained part of the background noise that frontline staff may no longer recognize when an important alarm is sounding. Just as a mother of three small children may no longer pay attention to their screaming, with so much noise, nurses may not hear what they need to in order to provide safe care.

Take, for example, a well-publicized event at Massachusetts General Hospital in January 2010. Federal investigators concluded that alarm fatigue contributed to the death of a heart patient. A bedside alarm had been turned off, but another alarm sounded at the nurses' station—an alarm that 10 nurses failed to hear.

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