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.