Medical device alarms are meant to save lives. Hospital equipment beeps and buzzes to alert doctors and nurses of dropping heart rates, medication levels, low batteries, and blood pressure issues. However, with increasing amounts of technology in each patient’s room, medical professionals are suffering from “alarm fatigue” – sometimes results in medical malpractice.a phenomenon when so many alarms go off in the environment so often that important alarms are missed or accidentally ignored – which

Too Many Medical Alarms Led to Patient Injury & Patient Death

Instances of alarm overload are common. According to a recent National Public Radio story, Boston Medical Center’s cardiac care unit was sounding 12,000 alarms a day. In another story that appeared in the Washington Post, Johns Hopkins Hospital’s ICU unit tallied 771 alarms per bed each day.

The result of these hundreds and thousands of hospital floor sounds is the opposite of what the alarms’ designers intended. Instead of saving patients, too many alarms make it difficult for health care workers to hear and respond to real emergencies. In some cases, a medical professional may turn off the wrong alarm in order to decrease the number of alarms in the area, while in other cases, a vital alarm will be drowned out by other alarm noise on the floor.

Alarm Fatigue Medical Malpractice Statistics

How big is the issue of alarm fatigue medical malpractice in United States hospitals today? In 2012 and 2013, the ECRI Institute, a patient safety organization, named alarm fatigue as the number one health-technology danger.  Here are a few more facts:

  • The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) received 862 death reports associated with medical device alarms in a seven-year span, ending in 2012.
  • The Joint Commission recorded 98 alarm-related incidents in which patients were harmed or killed over 3.5 years beginning in 2012. However, the commission believes that these self-reported numbers are very low, and that more than 1,000 incidents were likely during that time period.
  • An investigation by The Boston Globe found that at least 200 hospital deaths nationwide between 2005 and 2010 were related to medical alarm issues.

Solutions to Alarm Fatigue Patient Deaths

Since the issue of alarm fatigue has been recognized, some hospitals have responded to the issue by limiting alarms and adding new protocol. At Boston Medical Center, many low-level alarms have been silenced so that critical alarms are easier to hear and respond to. Johns Hopkins also turned off less important alarms and required nurses to check alarm settings for all patients during every shift. Both hospitals now have quieter floors – and safer patients. At the same time that hospitals are changing their policies regarding medical device alarms, the FDA is working with device manufacturers to regulate and standardize alarm sounds.

It’s a misconception that all medical malpractice cases involve botched surgeries or wrong medications. In some cases, it can be as simple as an ignored alarm or an incorrect medical device setting. If you or a loved one has been harmed because of a medical device alarm mistake, you may deserve compensation under the law. The attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Medical Malpractice Litigation Group are here to help – contact us today to discuss your case.

Robert B. Sickels

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Robert B. Sickels

For more than 30 years, Robert Sickels has successfully represented plaintiffs involved in complex personal injury, medical negligence, and products liability matters.

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