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Alarm-related patient injuries on the rise in U.S. hospitals

Hospitals are noisy. To deal with the noise, staff will occasionally reduce the volume on electronic devices, sometimes shutting them off or simply ignoring them. Unfortunately, such behavior can result in serious, even fatal consequences. In fact, due to an increase in alarm-related incidents stemming from hospital negligence, the Joint Commission that accredits hospitals in the U.S. is making alarm safety a top priority.

Maryland readers may find it interesting to learn that over a three and a half year period the Commission received 98 reports of alarm-related incidents, including 80 deaths. In fact, in a recent case the family of a 17-year-old received a $6 million medical malpractice settlement after a nurse admitted to turning off the alarm on a respiratory monitor. It was 25 minutes before staff realized the girl suffered respiratory failure.

One possible reason for the rise in alarm-related incidents in hospitals is an increase in the prominence of electronic devices. In fact, some clinicians and patient-safety advocates have suggested that the constant barrage of noise can lead to something they refer to as "alarm fatigue." With a dramatic rise in incidents, hospitals and patient safety advocates are beginning to take the phenomenon of "alarm fatigue" seriously.

If a patient is injured in an alarm-related incident they may be entitled to damages. Such incidents are clear examples of hospital negligence and a failure in supervision. There is no reason that someone should be injured due to something so simple. However, the truth is that these incidents happen far too often. In fact, the Commission believes the real number of incidents to be much higher than those reported above.

Source: Washington Post, "Too much noise from hospital alarms poses risk for patients," Lena H. Sun, July 7, 2013

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