Time to Battle Alarm Fatigue

Better Monitoring and Management

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


February 20, 2014

In This Article

Alarm Technology: Both Problem and Solution?

There may be irony in the fact that experts advocate for even more sophisticated monitor and device alarms to solve the problems created by today's biomedical technology. "Smart alarms" will be able to analyze multiple parameters of a patient's condition, separating physiologic changes from artifact to confirm whether a change is real or false before alerting the nurse. Better monitors might be able to automatically customize alarm settings and identify patient deterioration for individual patients. Because these features aren't yet available on today's monitors, we will have to wait to find out what unintended harms they might have in store for us down the road.

For now, we are still facing a patient safety problem commonly known as "alarm fatigue." Desensitization to alarms is a serious concern, and must be dealt with promptly. However, the real root cause of alarm fatigue is that we have expanded the use of alarm-generating devices without paying enough attention to alarm management. If we improve alarm management, the problem of alarm fatigue should take care of itself.


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