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Use of hospital alarms may have alarming impact on safety

A person can barely get through one hour of a day without hearing some sort of technological beep or alarm. Whether it is an alarm clock, the microwave, a car door, etc., we are living in a world of alarms. That reality is even more intense within the walls of a hospital.

The Washington Post reports on a matter of patient safety that is to be a top priority among medical care facilities throughout the U.S. Alarm fatigue is a condition caused by the abundance of various alarms that are constantly ringing in a hospital setting. The theory is that medical professionals become sort of deaf to the alarms due to how commonly they hear them throughout the day.

It is easy to imagine how a patient could be in danger if the doctors, nurses and other staff who are meant to respond to alarms are not responding. Sure, some alarms might not be as crucial as others, but one missed beep could very well become another missed beep. That missed alarm could mean life or death for a patient, as past cases of patient deaths prove.

What is the answer to the medical negligence issue? Safety authorities are working to simplify and streamline the use of alarms on medical devices. When there's an emergency situation, it shouldn't be so easy for staff to ignore the alarm. They shouldn't be so inundated with noises all day that they don't notice the sound of an alarm related to a "life-critical event."

Changes to devices, however, will not change overnight. A patient who suffers because hospital staff doesn't respond to his emergency has a right to try to hold that negligent staff accountable. So does a family who loses a loved one to that type of fatal mistake. 

Source: The Washington Post, "Too much noise from hospital alarms poses risk for patients," Lena H. Sun, July 7, 2013

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