A recent report in the Boston Globe examined patient alarms in hospitals and the various problems concerning them. Chief among these issues was incessant alarms—critical and otherwise—that hospital staffs ignore because of their overwhelming quantity. To wit, the article notes, “On a 15-bed unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, staff documented an average of 942 alarms per day — about 1 critical alarm every 90 seconds.”

According to the article, “Some studies have found more than 85% of alarms are false, meaning that the patient is not in any danger. Over time this can make nurses less and less likely to respond urgently to the sound.” In response, some hospitals have begun tweaking the programming of monitors to avoid these unnecessary alarms and saving staff from what it refers to as “alarm fatigue.” Other solutions include daily checks on monitors to ensure proper functionality, as well as daily replacement of monitor batteries.

The article also cites biomedical engineers that claim hospital staff have, “disconnected monitor speakers, taped over them, and turned down volume, all to escape the constant noise.”

What steps do you/your hospital take to ensure the proper functionality of patient monitors? How frequently do you service these monitors in order to ensure patient safety?

In addition, the Boston Globe enlisted the ECRI Institute to analyze much of the FDA data on the patient monitoring systems. In honor of National Patient Safety Awareness Week—March 6 through March 12, 2011—the ECRI Institute is offering a free download of the full risk analysis, “Clinical Alarms.”