Alarm fatigue in nursing is a real thing. It occurs when nurses become desensitized to the sound of patient alarm systems. According to the University of Texas, Arlington, alarm fatigue in nursing often occurs because of “the sensory overload and desensitization that clinicians experience when exposed to an excessive amount of alarms.”
Over the years, alarm fatigue has become one of the top 10 issues in acute care settings, particularly among technology hazards. In 2014, the Joint Commission mandated that alarm fatigue management become a primary National Patient Safety Goal.
Keep reading to learn more about alarm fatigue in nursing and how to counteract the potential dangers.
Why is Alarm Fatigue in Nursing a Concern?
There are many contributing factors to alarm fatigue in nursing. One of the most crucial factors is alarm settings are rarely tailored to patients on an individual basis. Another major concern is that poor electrocardiogram electrode practices largely result in false signals and alarms, causing nurses to become further desensitized to them. In fact, one study found that 72% to 99% of clinical alarms are false.
Researchers have also highlighted that not all medical facilities provide proper alarm-response training. When nurses don’t know how to properly respond to one or more alarms at the same time, this increases the risk of alarm fatigue. Without addressing the issue of alarm fatigue, it can lead to loss of life for one or more patients.
Nurses also often suffer from alarm fatigue merely due to the number of alarms they hear each day. The John Hopkins Hospital once reported that more than 59,000 alarms sounded over a 12-day period.
As one can imagine, the high number of alarm signals can overwhelm nurses, thus leading to alarm desensitization; this results in missed alarms as well as an increase in delayed response time to alarms.
How to Reduce Alarm Fatigue Effects
There are numerous strategies nursing directors can use to lessen the likelihood of alarm fatigue. Here are the top three tips to help reduce alarm fatigue.
- Keep equipment clean. False alarms often occur because of dirty equipment. Not only is keeping equipment clean important for health and sanitation purposes, but also for reducing the number of false alarms that occur on a daily basis.
- Reduce clinically inconsequential alarm sounds: “By switching cardiac monitor thresholds from ‘warning’ to ‘crisis’, daily audible alarm averages reduced from 12,546 to 1,424—a whopping 89%. This change not only increased nurse responsiveness, but it also dropped noise levels from 92 decibels to 70. BMC ensured that when a cardiac alarm sounded, it meant the event was clinically consequential and needed attention, prompting nurses to react to any instance.”
- Go mobile with alarm alerts: Going mobile with alarm alerts is easy with the right intelligent software. This allows the software itself to “act as the first stage of triage by incorporating the facility’s pre-set priority levels and using built-in logic to pass along the highest level of alerts first.”
Intelligent software also provides escalation for unacknowledged alerts and allows hospitals to maintain a full audit trail of every notification.
Taking Alarm Fatigue in Nursing Seriously
If you’re a nurse or thinking about becoming a nurse, consider the potential consequences of alarm fatigue and how to avoid them.
One of the best ways to expand your knowledge about alarm fatigue and other nursing-related topics is to participate in nursing continuing education unit (CEU) courses. Check out these free nursing CEUs now.