Living Healthy: Alarm Fatigue - 7News Boston WHDH-TV

Living Healthy: Alarm Fatigue

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BOSTON (WHDH) - Registered nurse Jean Volcy says for years, work was beyond stressful with constant alarms and incessant beeping.

“We had the alarm all the time, ringing, ringing, ringing, and the people getting tired and were not paying that much attention, because of alarm fatigue,” Volcy said.

He, along with many caregivers across the country, suffered from alarm fatigue, that's when there are so many noises on the medical unit, that it actually desensitizes the staff.

“As technology has grown, increasingly you have more and more pieces of equipment being alarmed, so they are all competing with each other which is very tiring for patients and also for the nurses,” Clinical Service Manager Deborah Whalen

So Boston Medical Center decided to do something about it.

Clinical engineer Jim Piepenbrink spent years studying and monitoring the situation.

“We started looking at the data. What was the data telling us, we coupled that with what the staff were telling us and what we observed the staff doing,” he said.

And they made changes.

“The biggest change we made were eliminating warning alarms, which were those that would self-reset and correct themselves, by doing that we then provided the staff with only alarms they had to respond to,” Piepenbrink said.

What that did was reduce the amount of alarms in that cardiology unit by 89 percent, from more than 12,000 a day to less than 1,500.

“My goodness, what a change. Now we don’t hear alarms too often, and when there is an alarm we focus more on it, because we don’t have one every five seconds, every five minutes. This is the best thing to happen to this floor,” Volcy said.

While BMC has reduced alarms, they have also improved patient safety, and given the staff peace of mind.

“As you walk around the unit, they can hear and discern those alarms without always being on edge, so for our staff it’s a much happier staff,” Whalen said.

The approach has been expanded to all BMC inpatient medical surgical units.
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