Hospital Bell Alarm Fatigue

Bell alarm fatigue is a growing concern among U.S patients and the organizations that regulate and accredit U.S. hospitals. Bell alarm fatigue is a blanket term used to describe situations when medical staff either do not hear or intentionally ignore a ringing patient alarm.

These alarms are kept in patient rooms and activated with a control that usually rests on or near the patients' bed within easy reach. They are used to alert doctors, nurses and other medical staff when a patient needs help or attention, or is in trouble. There are also automatic alarms linked to heart and other monitors on patients who are not able to activate an alarm on their own.

The Boston Globe ran an investigative reporting article where at least 216 deaths nationwide between January 2005 and June 2010 were linked to bell alarm fatigue. "There is uniform agreement that this is a major problem," says Dr. Paul Schyve, a senior vice president at the Joint Commission, an accrediting organization investigating the issue.

Hospitals are noisy chaotic places. Alarms of all sorts are sounding almost constantly, and it is easy for hospital personnel to tune out or get desensitized from hearing the alarms. Many of the alarms also sound quite similar, so it may be difficult to distinguish a crisis call from something less urgent such as an IV bag needing to be replaced. Even if there are distinct sounds for the varying alarms, it can be difficult to make a distinction amongst the constant noise and beeping of other medical machinery.

Bell alarm fatigue has been a growing concern of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for several years, and has finally garnered the attention it deserves. If medical staff, either does not hear, or simply fail to respond to a patient alarm, it has the potential for far reaching consequences for patient care and the overall confidence in the health care industry.

The Joint Commission in partnership with the FDA plans to make alarm fatigue one of its concentrations for 2011. Drawing attention to this issue will, they hope, be the first step towards tackling and eradicating this important problem.

Despite the efforts of doctors and hospital staff to improve patient safety, injuries occur in hospitals far too often. If you have been injured or lost a loved one due to an act of medical malpractice contact an experienced attorney for help.