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Cheng Zhang

Clinical Engineer, VA Boston Healthcare System

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How to effectively reduce alarm fatigue in hospitals?

Our increasingly complex medical technology is forcing our clinicians to stay on top of an overwhelming number of parameters and physiological alarms. Over the past few years, the number of incidents involving alarm fatigue has escalated, leading to media frenzy (http://articles.boston.com/2011-09-21/lifestyle/30185391_1_alarm-fatigue-nurses-patient). Several patients were severely injured and some even died due to medical alarm exhaustion.

Proposed solutions:
1. Integrate alarms to reduce the number of alarms
2. Decreasing physiological threshold (doctors are very conservative about this)
3. Monitoring how long it takes the clinicians to respond to each alarm
4. Offer more training to clinicians about the alarm functionality
5. Deliver alarms to responsible clinician via beeper, cell phone.

Any inputs or suggestions are welcome!

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    Oct 17 2011: Chen Zhang,
    I wonder if you have the ability to send a link to this question to hospital personnel around your area, or all over.

    This looks like a very important issue, yet very specific to hospitals. I think they would be the ones providing the most useful answers... we are just, well patients or potential patients...

    I truly think the TED community would benefit from their participation!
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      Oct 17 2011: Actually, there is a group of clinical engineers (representatives from several different hospitals) working on solutions including organizations like AAMI and HTF. But what I'm really looking for are simple approaches we can take like designing a more sound absorbent room, or feeding patients with white noise to drown out the alarm.

      Ultimately, I'm posting this on TED to get a wider perspective (e.g. human factors as Debra suggested).

      Thanks!
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        Oct 21 2011: I'm confused now..are you thinking of sound absorbent rooms and white noise for patients to insukate them from the rest of the noise of alarms ad cries? I think that is a great idea..part of the dehumaizing, demorlaizing, spirit eroding experience of having to be in a hospital or nursing home, especially at night, are these noises of cries, screams,and alarms.

        But it will only help the very very few who are in private rooms..most have at least one room mate and the only relief from the cries of a rom mate is a fast response from care staff..The longer the alarm gos unanswered the greater the distress..the louder the cries.

        Again, the interventions for "alarm fatigue" are not technology..it's adequate staff, adequate training, cultivating compassion as the culture of all hospitals and nursing homes.

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