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Medical News & Perspectives
June 12, 2013

Joint Commission Warns of Alarm Fatigue: Multitude of Alarms From Monitoring Devices Problematic

JAMA. 2013;309(22):2315-2316. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.6032

Although devices to monitor various aspects of a patient in the hospital are intended to improve safety, sometimes they cause harm. The number of conditions and therapeutics to be monitored, “alarm fatigue” caused by the large number of alarms, and a lack of commitment by hospital staff all can lead to dire consequences.

The situation is not new, but it is enough of a concern that the Joint Commission in April issued a Sentinel Event Alert for 98 alarm-related incidents between January 2009 and June 2012. Of the events, 80 resulted in death, 13 in permanent loss of function, and 5 in unexpected additional care or extended stays. The commission believes these sentinel events represent less than 10% of the actual alarm-related harms that occurred in hospitals.