The Nurses Lounge

Ring the Alarm: How You Can Suffer From Alarm Fatigue in the Clinical Setting

As you sit at the nursing station, the telemetry screen alarms everyone of latest patient suffering from atrial fibrillation. Thankfully, this patient with a chronic history is finally scheduled for surgery today to correct this issue, so you try to tune out the sound in order to listen to the physician placing pre-op orders over the phone. Suddenly, a bed alarm goes off in one of the rooms at the end of the hallway, indicating the one of the post-surgical patients have attempted to get out of bed without calling for assistance. While the nurses and nurse techs rush down the hallway to get there before a fall can occur, the alarm signals loudly at the nurses station. As you repeat the order back to the physician for verification, a medication finishes in the patient’s room across the hall triggering even more beeping. Your call is complete, but your thoughts are scattered and frazzled.

In the clinical setting, alarms are used for several different reasons by several forms of equipment. From blood pressure machines, to telemetry, to bed alarms, to phones, etc., alarms are useful when trying to get your attention. You hear so many alarms everyday that you even begin to hear them at home. I even once dreamed about a med pump alarming in my sleep! Constant alarms in the workplace can lead to miscommunication, errors, noise pollution, and what many experts like to describe as alarm fatigue.

In response to the constant sounds, you begin to tune them out subconsciously. This phenomenon is known as alarm fatigue. Alarm fatigue occurs when one is exposed to a number of frequent alarms and consequently becomes desensitized to them. Desensitization of alarms can lead to longer response times or missing important events. Think about it, if no one responded to the bed alarm discussed earlier, that patient could have fallen and hurt themselves drastically. Several studies show that alarm fatigue could end with disastrous patient safety events and total loss for the organization.

Thankfully, many efforts have been made to prevent this from happening. Organizations have attempted to restructure procedures like proper skin prep and electrode placement for telemetry monitoring, along with hourly rounding, to help decrease the number of calls and bed alarms at the nurses station. Studies have shown that if these interventions are done correctly and consistently, they can reduce the chances of clinicians developing alarm fatigue and committing errors.

Talk with your leadership and see how you can incorporate some of the these interventions, or even develop your own to help combat this problem. If there are shared governance councils or employee groups available, try to develop a project that could help your peers easily adopt these methods into their workday! It’s worth a try to help manage the noise in your workplace and prevent the alarm fatigue that can put your patients’ lives at risk.

Leave a comment below to share how you fight against alarm fatigue!

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