Health care organizations’ information technologies and workflows often don’t support each other, according to a patient care-focused nonprofit that flagged the problem as one of the top safety issues facing the industry. The ECRI Institute, which recently released its third annual ranking of the Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns for Healthcare Organizations, reported that patient identification errors and inadequate management of behavioral health issues in non-behavioral health settings were its No. 2 and No. 3 issues for health care organizations. When a health IT system is introduced, health care organizations should tailor it to their workflow, and vice versa, according to ECRI, which is based in Pennsylvania.
At Bridgeport Hospital, “talking bed rails” programmed to speak to patients in the geriatric psychiatric unit are helping to reduce the number of alarms that sound when a patient at risk for falling tries to get out of bed. At the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain, health care professionals are adopting techniques from aviation safety experts to reduce the chances of a catastrophic event happening before a clinical alarm goes off. These are among the many ways Connecticut hospitals are tackling a phenomenon known industry-wide as alarm fatigue. Health care experts worry that medical devices with built-in alarms – such as heart monitors, infusion pumps and ventilators – designed to alert caregivers that patients are in danger could potentially put patients at risk because caregivers are desensitized by the sheer number of alerts and false alarms and fail to respond in a timely fashion. Research shows alarms in intensive care units are accurate less than 10 percent of the time, and 90 percent are false alarms.
Solutions for combating alarm fatigue range from alarm integration technology that sends alerts to a caregiver’s telephone to the development of a new generation of “smart alarms,” including ones designed to monitor multiple vital signs.