As my colleague, Frank Watts, mentioned in his post “Noise and Patient Anxiety,” a cacophony of alarm signals, nurse call equipment sounds, and the like, can wear down a patient’s recuperative efforts and assurance that they are receiving the best possible care. So, too, can a frequency of alarm noises cause anxiety in hospital caregivers, which in turn, can deplete their ability to provide excelled healthcare. This syndrome, known as alarm fatigue, occurs in a clinical scenario when alarms sound so often that responders become desensitized causing them to respond slowly, inaccurately, or not at all. Another issue of “alarm discriminability” arises which affects the clinician’s ability to discern between one or more alarms. Hence the need for a better alarm delivery solution – Voalte One!
In a survey summary published in the MedSun Newsletter #65, October 2011 by The Medical Product Safety Network*, nine of the 350 health care facilities included in the network reported on the most common alarm fatigue challenges in their demanding and time-critical environments. The respondents represented a cross-section of the hospital staff: risk managers, staff nurses, nurse managers and biomedical engineers. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents experienced alarm fatigue daily, while the other one-third were clearly aware the term and the issues involved. Generally, many of the respondents felt that the varying alarm sounds required extra diligence that involved relying on other sources of observation. In order to determine the correct priority of an alarm, many clinicians would check central monitors in the nursing room, search from room-to-room, use split screens in patient rooms, etc.–all requiring invaluable time when seconds really count the most. Even with varying pitch and tone, many alarms in a localized area were still hard to distinguish properly.
Building considerations as to the overall size of the unit, high levels of noise, and closed patient room doors also factored into the ability for proper alarm signal discernment. That particular consideration and other conditions contributed to the survey-wide result that visual alarms faired better than auditory alarms when providing reliable, and rapid, information regarding alarm location and level of urgency.
When the respondents were questioned regarding their recommendations for better technological solutions to alarm fatigue and alarm discriminability, receiving alarm notification text messages on a smartphone was a survey-wide answer. Additionally, the ability to monitor alarm notifications and information portably through an iPad or similar tablet product was also mentioned as another important technology advancement.
*The Medical Product Safety Network (MedSun) improves FDA’s understanding of problems with the use of medical devices so that the FDA, healthcare facilities, clinicians, and manufacturers can better address safety concerns.