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Hospital staff may become desensitized to medical alarms


The sound of a car alarm going off may have sent Oregon residents rushing to their windows or reaching for their phones to call the police when the technology was first introduced a few decades ago, but the sounds made by these security systems have become so ubiquitous that they now largely go ignored. This may be the case with hospital alarms as well. A Johns Hopkins University researcher has found that doctors and nurses may hear as many as 100 alarms during a single hospital shift, and she believes that patients may be in danger when their care providers become desensitized to the sound of medical alerts.

According to the research, more than 90 percent of hospital alarms are either false alerts or do not signify a serious medical situation. Doctors and nurses soon become aware of this, and the research indicates that alarms are responded to in a timely manner only about half of the time.

Patients may be most at risk when the volume of persistent medical alarms are lowered or the devices are switched off altogether. This could lead to patients running out of vital medications or receiving no treatment when their vital signs deteriorate rapidly. The problem is so widespread that the Emergency Care Research Institute considers hospital alarms to be one of the five most serious medical technology dangers.

Hospitals and other medical facilities are becoming more and more dependent on sophisticated electronic equipment and the software that allows it to operate, and reviewing the electronic footprints left by such equipment could be important in a medical malpractice case involving alleged hospital negligence. Attorneys with experience in this area may sometimes call upon information technology specialists to determine if hospital equipment was functioning properly at the time of a medical emergency and whether or not doctors and nurses responded to alarms promptly.