Wake up! Tips to reduce alarm fatigue

By | 2022-02-23T14:57:51-05:00 June 27th, 2013|1 Comment

The Joint Commission issued an alert recently, calling attention to “alarm fatigue” — a buzzword describing the desensitization one can experience when exposed to a constant stream of alarm signals in a clinical setting. The alert calls on institutions to place new awareness and education on safety issues surrounding patient alarms.

The Joint Commission estimates that tens of thousands of alarms ring daily in a hospital setting. And of those tens of thousands, somewhere between 85-99% of the alarms don’t require clinical intervention. Over time, it’s inevitable that clinicians will develop some immunity to that barrage of stimulus.

So how can you reduce alarm fatigue?

Check out what readers on Facebook had to say about alarm fatigue.

Some nurses had the right idea on a Facebook thread — namely, setting appropriate alarms for your patient or patient population. That’s one recommendation that has been made by the Joint Commission.

Some other ways to reduce alarm fatigue:

  • On an institutional level, a formal assessment should be conducted to analyze institutional specific trends and challenges
  • To decrease the number of “nuisance” alarms, troubleshoot equipment, such as worn out electrodes or inappropriate alarm parameters
  • Have a clear handoff communication protocol
  • Verbalize who is responsible for an alarm if you are unable to respond
  • Promote patient safety as an organizational priority
  • Review alarm management tips with staff periodically
  • Track recalled or faulty monitoring equipment

Walking The Tightrope: The Art of Setting Alarm Parameters

Setting alarm parameters correctly is, like most things in nursing, both an art and a science. Sometimes the “right” parameter can be a fine line. Parameters that are too tight can exacerbate alarm fatigue by causing an increase in unnecessary alarms. But set your parameters too wide and you may miss an important change in clinical status. Finding the balance is key, but requires practice and experience.

What is your unit or institution doing to help combat alarm fatigue? Is it being talked about where you work? Do you think there’s room for improvement? Have you ever had a close call or poor patient outcome due to alarm fatigue?


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