The bells, blips and signals emitted by medical devices, many of which are designed to alert medical staff if patients are in danger, pose the risk of being absorbed into the auditory landscape of hospital corridors and ignored, a problem referred to as “alarm fatigue.”
The issue is coming under new focus at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which will explore ways to reduce the problem at American hospitals, according to The Boston Globe.
The FDA will focus on providing more training on alarm safety and standards to the people responsible for evaluating applications from manufacturers seeking permission to sell their medical devices into hospitals, according to the Globe.
Dr. William Maisel, deputy director and chief scientist at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, told the Globe that the FDA was looking into new applications from medical device manufacturers to determine whether the alarms on the devices provide critical information on patient care.
Alarm fatigue was cited in an ECRI Institute report last year as the number one hazard faced by hospitals. The report from the Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania nonprofit said that in a hospital setting, the frequency of alarms poses a risk of some hospital staff becoming desensitized to the constant beeps and, in the worst cases, lowering the volume too much.
It called for better training for medical staff to the different levels of alarms and how to interpret what’s urgent and what’s not. It also recommended that hospitals set up protocols for alarm system settings on all equipment used for patient care and for how staff should respond to these alarms.
[Flickr photo from quinn.anya]