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Monitoring Alarms Causing Nurse Fatigue, Patient Deaths

A machine that was supposed to monitor the breathing of a 17-year-old tonsillectomy patient had been muted by health care staff, so when the teen’s breathing slowed in response to a painkiller she received, no one heard the alarm that should have warned her care team that she was in trouble. Twenty-five minutes later, the teen had suffered severe brain injury and died 15 days later. She walked into the hospital to have her tonsils out but was never able to walk out because the machine that should have alerted her nurses to her respiratory distress had been silenced.

Alarm-related incidents are blamed for as many as 1,000 patient deaths and injuries according to the Joint Commission that accredits hospitals throughout the U.S. Nurses fatigued by the never ending glut of alarms – as many as 66/minute by one study – are muting the alarms or simply ignoring them with devastating results. These nursing errors are a serious form of medical or hospital negligence.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received fatality reports related to medical equipment alarms in more than 850 cases over a seven-year period.

As more and more machines are used to provide constant monitoring of patients’ vital signs – ostensibly to improve the overall quality of the care they receive – the onslaught of alarms is causing many alarms to be ignored. Others are going unheard as nurses are out of earshot attending to other patients at the time of the alarm.

According to the ECRI Institute, monitoring device alarms were the number one technology hazard to inpatients in 2012 and 2013. ECRI is a patient safety organization.

There are many hazards to a person’s health within the walls of a hospital, medical center or clinic. When medical negligence result in a serious injury or the death of a loved one, a medical malpractice lawyer can help you determine how to hold the right people or businesses accountable.

Source: The Washington Post, “Too much noise from hospital alarms poses risk for patients,” July 7, 2013

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