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Medical providers ignore alarms leading to patient harm

Patients in hospitals often find themselves hooked up to various machines which monitor vital signs, including heart rate, oxygen, and blood pressure. If the body begins to fail in any of these categories, the machine senses the problem and sounds an alarm. At that time, medical staff is alerted to the concern, and in a perfect situation, they rush to the patient's bedside to resolve the crisis. A new study put forth by the Joint Commission, a hospital and healthcare accreditation body, has found that medical personnel in California and around the United States are desensitized to the constant sounds of beeps. By ignoring the alarms, they are putting patients at risk of a medical mistake.

It is unclear how many instances of serious injury and death could have been prevented by closer monitoring of alarm systems, but reports indicate that the number hovers at an average of 24 deaths per year. The exact figure is difficult to determine because providers do not always link the eventual harm to the initial failure to respond to the monitor. However, there is no question that in addition to patient deaths, "alarm fatigue," causes patient falls, injuries, and medicine mistakes.

The Commission suggests that the sounds from the machines are easy to confuse. There is not a standard sound for a heart, oxygen, or other emergency. Personnel in hospitals might assume that incessant beeping signifies only a broken machine which could lead to a failure to treat a serious problem. Individuals who have suffered a worsened injury in the hospital that could have been prevented by a prompt response to an alarm may wish to discuss the matter with experienced counsel to learn of available rights and remedies.

Source: Yahoo News, "Hospital group says 'alarm fatigue' can be deadly," Lindsey Tanner, April 8, 2013

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