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Real Concerns about Ventilator Alarm Fatigue

Ventilator alarm fatigue, or overexposure to ventilator and cardiac monitor alarms which increases the risk of errors, is finally getting the attention it deserves. The ECRI Institute now ranks ventilator alarm-related hazards right at the top of its annual list of health technology hazards. New data by the Food and Drug Administration also suggests that the time is right for a spotlighting of this phenomenon. According to the agency, more than 800 ventilator alarm-related errors occur in 2010 alone. Many of these occur in nursing homes and result in a form of nursing home abuse (neglect).

A new analysis by the Boston Globe finds that over the past 6 years, more than 100 people have died from ventilator alarm-related errors. According to the analysis, most of these errors occurred due to nurses’ failure to respond to a beeping alarm, and not the result of defective alarms. According to ABC News,  many nursing homes are so understaffed they may be endangering the welfare of their patients, according to a new report by federal health officials. The report, which will be presented to Congress later this month, recommends stricter guidelines that would require thousands of nursing homes to hire more nurses and nurses’ aides, The New York Times reported today. After eight years of research, health officials concluded that under-staffing has contributed to increased incidences of severe bedsores, malnutrition, and abnormal weight loss among nursing home patients.

Over exposure to ventilator alarms is definitely a phenomenon that deserves attention. During any given working day in a hospital, nurses are exposed to hundreds of frequently beeping ventilator and monitor alarms. Many alarms sound an alert even for slight changes in measurements that may not be serious. When this happens, nurses get used to the sound of alarms, and begin neglecting alerts. In fact, as the Boston Globe analysis shows, most of the ventilator alarm-related errors were the result of failing to respond to an alert, and occurred when the alarms were not set properly.

Georgia hospitals and nursing home facilities need to be investing more in training nurses to respond properly to alarms. For instance, it would help if there were certain standards for alarm sounds, to eliminate confusion and repetition for nurses. Also, some alarms may not need to sound as often as they do, even for slight changes in a person’s reading. That would help eliminate the possibility of overexposure.

Robert Fleming is an Atlanta medical malpractice lawyer who represents victims of negligence by medical professionals across Georgia both in the hospital setting and in nursing homes. Attorney Robert J. Fleming has been handling wrongful death cases, automobile accident cases, personal injury cases, dental malpractice and medical malpractice lawsuits for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 20 years in and around Atlanta, Georgia and its surrounding areas, including Alpharetta, Austell, Avondale Estates, Chamblee, College Park, Conyers, Duluth, Decatur, Doraville, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree City, Riverdale, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, and Smyrna. If you have been seriously injured and would like quality legal representation, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.