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Ignoring alarms in hospitals leads to dozens of deaths every year

If you have been reading some of the recent posts on our Chicago medical malpractice law blog, you may have come to the conclusion that there are too many things that can go wrong when patients are receiving medical treatment in hospitals. Inadequate hospital policies may lead to serious and fatal incidents of hospital negligence, including the spread of dangerous bacteria, medication errors, surgical mistakes and misdiagnosis errors.

But implementing effective policies is just one step hospitals must take to ensure patient safety. After implementing new policies or updating policies, hospitals also need to make sure workers receive adequate training so they know how to provide patients with quality care. When these policies are not followed due to negligence or poor training, hospital patients are at risk of suffering a variety of injuries.

One area The Joint Commission believes all U.S. hospitals need to focus on for improving patient safety is properly training staff on how to use and respond to hospital equipment alarms. The commission, a non-profit organization that accredits and certifies health care organizations, claims that too many patients are harmed every year because hospital workers ignore alarms or don’t know how to respond to hospital equipment alarms.

Ignoring alarms and responding to the wrong alarms may cause patients to suffer from preventable medication errors, accidents in hospital rooms, and other health complications. The hospital-accrediting group reported earlier this month that more than 20 patients die every year because doctors and nurses ignore beeping alarms when they should be responding to alarms.

However, many hospital workers ignore beeping alarms because they don’t always know what certain beeping sounds mean. Some alarms beep to alert workers that the alarms are not working properly. Some alarms beep even though there is no emergency to address. Hearing constant beeping for a variety of reasons can lead to “alarm fatigue,” and workers may get too used to alarms meaning nothing.

To address this patient safety issue, the Joint Commission is asking hospitals to acknowledge that workers may be affected by alarm fatigue and to provide workers with training that specifically addresses how to properly respond to hospital equipment alarms. Dozens of lives could be saved every year just by making sure hospital workers know how to respond to alarms when they hear alarms go off.

Source: News & Observer, “Hospital group says ‘alarm fatigue’ can be deadly,” Lindsey Tanner, April 8, 2013

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