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Hospital bell alarm fatigue puts patients at serious risk

A hospital is a busy bustling place, full of people, chaos and noise. Over the past few decades, this noise has grown and grown, partly due to the rising number of patient alarms. Originally, alarms were used for high-risk patients to alert medical staff to serious changes in a patient's condition. These alarms saved lives, but over the years, more alarms have been added for low-risk conditions, which has led to a constant buzzing, beeping, chirping, tweeting and an ever-rising din in our hospitals. As a result, there is a serious problem with hospital bell alarm fatigue.

What is bell alarm fatigue?

This type of fatigue occurs when hospital staff fails to hear or ignores patient alarms. With the constant beeping, some doctors and nurses may become desensitized to the sounds. In addition, many alarms end up being false, due to malfunctioning machinery or very low-risk changes in condition. It makes it difficult to distinguish these types of alarms with those that are serious and life threatening. When this leads to unanswered alarms, patients can suffer serious, even fatal, injuries. When this happens, medical malpractice may have occurred.

Some examples of negligence attributed to bell alarm fatigue include:

  • Delayed response by medical staff due to repeat false alarms
  • Repeat alarms due to malfunctioning monitors, causing serious alarms to be missed
  • Failure to reset monitors due to false alarms, adjust for new patients, or lowering the volume on monitors
  • Inadequate training on monitors or other medical equipment with alarms
  • Inadequate staffing to respond to alarms in a timely manner

Consequently, all patients are in danger of serious alarms being overlooked, ignored or just not heard and this puts everyone at risk of serious harm; the opposite of what we expect while receiving medical care in the hospital.

What is being done to stop it?

Due to the growing problem of bell alarm fatigue, the Joint Commission approved a new National Patient Safety Goal (NPSG.06.01.01) in 2013 to combat this issue. In Phase I, hospitals were to identify and prioritize the most serious types of patient alarms. This was to start on July 1, 2014; the intent was to cut down on unnecessary alarms and hospital noise that may mask the more serious alarms. Hospitals are now nearing Phase II of NPSG beginning January 1, 2016, which requires new safety policies and procedures to be implemented based on the findings of Phase I.

Responding to alarms is critical to patient safety, which is why it is a focus of the Joint Commission and hospitals nationwide. However, hundreds of patients have been injured by bell alarm fatigue and more may be injured before new safety precautions are in place.

If you have been injured due to a missed alarm, you have rights that need to be protected. Contact Alan D. Bell to learn more about your legal options. Attorney Bell has more than 35 years of experience helping injured patients discover who was at fault and to hold them responsible for their injuries. Call 973-233-4291 to discuss your situation and learn more about next steps.

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Alan D. Bell
650 Bloomfield Avenue, Suite 105
Bloomfield, NJ 07003

Phone: 973-233-4291
Phone: 973-743-7070

Top One, The National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Lawyers, New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Attorney - seal of the supreme court of New Jersey, AV LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Rated for ethical standards and legal ability, Lead Counsel LC Rated