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Study: Doctor ‘Alarm Fatigue’ Can Lead To Fatal Errors

By Michelle Durham

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Joint Commission, an organization which supplies accreditations to hospitals and other health care facilities, conducted a three and a half year study which indicated that hospital workers may become desensitized to the alarms of machines monitoring vital signs of critically ill patients. Ignored beeps can lead to patient deaths.

Dr. Ana Pujols McKee

Dr. Ana Pujols McKee

Joint Commission Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ana Pujols McKee received her Medical Degree at Hahnemann and worked at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She says the problem is “alarm fatigue” hospital employees are so used to hearing the alarms and each machine alarms at a different stage of criticality.

“It becomes white noise, and then one of the problems then can be that individual gets up and turns it off.”

Hospitals voluntarily submit information to the Commission which has documented 80 deaths and over a dozen injuries. Dr. McKee recommends all the devices have alarm guidelines, better staff training and.

“For every patient and family. They should be oriented by the clinical team as to what the alarms mean. And if the alarm is not being responded too. They should reach out and not ignore it.”

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