Medical Alarm Fatigue
In one fascinating research article performed in an intensive care unit (ICU) where the sickest of the sick are cared for in a hospital, they documented 2.6 million unique alarms in a 31 day period of time. There were 381,560 audible alarms for an audible alarm burden of 187/bed/day. Of cardiac arrhythmias actually annotated, 88.8% of the alarms ended up being totally wrong.
Remember the tale of the boy who cried wolf too many times?
Imagine that tale, but magnified a thousand-fold and you have some idea of what it is like to work in an ICU.
But it's not just in the ICU... in any clinic setting where electronic medical records are being used, ask any doctor, nurse, or pharmacist how many times a medical error message pops up in a typical day.
If my experience is any example, I probably get prompted by such an alarm about 6x per hour or about 240 alarms in a typical 40 hour work week, typically in e-prescribing situations. How many end up being legitimate alarms? Probably about one a week.
Only ONE legitimate alarm out of 240 alarms a week.
You can see how this alarm fatigue may become a problem where being bombarded by so many alarms may cause the one real alarm to be accidentally dismissed out of habit.
Insights into the Problem of Alarm Fatigue with Physiologic Monitor Devices: A Comprehensive Observational Study of Consecutive Intensive Care Unit Patients. PLOS One October 22, 2014DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110274
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