There is constant activity in hospital intensive care units. There are many different sounds, such as ventilators honking, the high pitch beeps of the infusion pumps, and the long tones of the blood pressure monitors. All this equipment is important for scanning for changes in the patients' heart rhythm, blood pressure, and other vital signs.
Most of these noises are false alarms not requiring attention. A ventilator might beep because a patient coughs, the patient may run out of medication causing the infusion pump to beep, or the nurse may adjust the catheter in a patient’s artery, causing the blood pressure monitor to go off.
Unfortunately, all these false alarms may lead hospital staff to turn off the alarm or turn it down making it inaudible in some areas of the unit. Over the course of several years there were ninety-eight reports of alarm related incidents. However, these reports were voluntary and may represent just a small number of incidents. It has been estimated that there have been close to 1,000 alarm incidents where the patient has died, has been injured, or has faced those risks. There are some hospitals that are now required to identify the alarms that pose the biggest safety risk by adding unnecessary noise or are being ignored.
Clinicians and patient-safety advocates have been trying to warn hospitals and staff of this issue for years. Since hospitals are now investing in more complex and noisy devices, the urgency to make the environment safer for patients is even greater.
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