5 ways to reduce alarm fatigue at your hospital
Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Working at a hospital, you know that alarms on monitoring equipment in your ICU, step-down unit and general wards are a major challenge for your staff and patients. When false alarms happen, patients panic unnecessarily and staff become desensitized, increasing the chance of a missed emergency.
The noise pollution can fray nerves and keep patients from resting so they can heal faster. Stumped as to how to handle this issue? Science can offer you innovative answers.
Try implementing these pieces of research-driven advice to ease strain and make your wards more peaceful:
Make sure alarms are checked out promptly.
A study from Ilene Busch-Visniac at Johns Hopkins University found in a survey of patient experiences that 90% of clinical alarms went unanswered at bedsides. Make a mandatory policy that staff members in each ward use a time-sensitive system to check every alarm for patient safely.
If staff members are busy, work out a relay system so there's always someone available to get to a bedside quickly.
Fix faulty equipment immediately.
This should be a no-brainer, but the Busch-Visniac study also found that there are, on average, an astonishing 8 million alarm errors in hospitals per day.
Make sure malfunctioning equipment is not adversely affecting your patients in any way. Reprogram or replace the items immediately.
Use daily patient assessments to cut back on use.
Researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital report that daily assessments of patient needs can help desensitize caregivers to alarms, either by safely allowing for patients to be taken off monitoring or by pinpointing an increased need to pay immediate attention if an alarm goes off for specific patients.
Keep team members in the loop regarding patients' changing needs throughout each day.
Tailor alarms to each patient's needs.
A study from the University of California, San Francisco found that 2.5 million alarms went off in one surveyed hospital in a single month. That prevalence of alarms can lead to patients experiencing anxiety and depression. In cardiac patients, it can cause small changes that could be responsible for ignoring a life-threatening heart rhythm crisis.
Tailoring alarms specifically to a patient's condition, especially for cardiac patients, can alleviate these concerns dramatically. Work with your cardiology teams to facilitate this and ask your doctors to clearly explain why alarms will go off and in what situations.
Decrease "warning" alarms audibly.
A study from Boston University Medical Center found that differentiating between "warning" alarms and "crisis" alarms can decrease noise in hospitals can decrease audible noise significantly.
"Crisis" alarms should be audible and responded to instantly, while "warning" alarms can be programmed to sound different and can be rigged to be silent but viewed immediately at the nurses' station.
Warning alarms should never be ignored — but they can be responded to more efficiency using this kind of strategy. Patient safety is always your first priority — deliver it as calmly and promptly as you can in all situations.
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