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Beeping Alarms in Hospitals Linked to Dozens of Deaths

Posted on May 01 2013

The constant beeping from medical devices that monitor vital signs may have “desensitized” hospital workers who have become accustomed to ignoring the noise, which has lead to at least two dozen deaths a year on average. The abundance of technology is complicating the situation because there is no standardization for what the beeps mean. Unfortunately, these cases are hugely underreported, according to the Joint Commission in an alert to call attention to the problem in hospitals.

The beeping devices are those that measure blood pressure, heart rate and other things. Some of the machines beep when there is an emergency and some beep when they aren’t working properly. This can lead to noise fatigue, which delays the treatment of a patient putting their lives in danger. The commission’s estimate of possible deaths related to this problem is significantly lower than that reported by the FDA. According to the FDA, more than 500 deaths were potentially linked with hospital alarms between January 2005 and June 2010. It is likely that there are far more problems than have been reported due to ignoring or misinterpreting an alarm. Scary, right?

Tracing back to the original problem of this issue can be extremely difficult. The most common factor here is “alarm fatigue,” but too few staffers to respond to alarms and equipment malfunctions was also a common problem. The commission states that hospital leaders need to address this problem and train their staff in safe alarm management.

This article can really make you think. When you put your loved ones in the hands of hospital care you assume they are in no better place to be taken care of, but is this true? Be an advocate and make sure your loved ones, or even you, are getting the best and most effective healthcare when you need it most.

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