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Alarm Fatigue May Cause Medical Mistakes

Medical MistakeWhen we were young, most of us heard the Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The children’s story tells of a young shepherd on a hillside who gets bored with his duties so he calls out loudly for help, exclaiming that a wolf is attacking his flock. The nearby villagers come running only to find the boy laughing at having tricked the adults. The villagers warn him to save his cries for a real problem and return to their village. The boy cries out for help several more times, making the villagers increasingly angry with him. One day, a wolf does attack his flock, and the boy shouts for help. This time, however, the villagers are certain the boy is lying again and ignore him. The wolf proceeds to scatter the flock and kill some of the sheep.

At first glance, this fable may seem completely unrelated to medical care, but the two are linked more closely than one might think. As it turns out, the near-constant beeping and buzzing of hospital alarm systems often cause medical professionals to become desensitized to the alarms, even when there is a real problem. This phenomenon is known as “alarm fatigue,” and it has been known to contribute to patient injuries and deaths.

Large Numbers of False Alarms

Depending on which study you read, up to 95 percent of all alarms heard in a medical setting each day are estimated to be false or otherwise require no active intervention. Medical staff, including nurses, must still respond to each one as if it represented a life-threatening situation for the patient. Over time, the alarms start to lose their urgency—at least to those tasked with monitoring the alerts.

When such a high percentage of alarms do not indicate an actual problem, it is almost understandable that nurses, orderlies, and doctors may not respond to them very quickly—but only almost. Hospitals should be places where patients receive the best care possible. In most cases, that means responding when an alarm sounds, even if the problem is likely to be minor. If the response causes a patient’s care to drop below the acceptable standard of care—meaning the care that another professional of similar age, training, and ability would normally provide—the professional or hospital in question could be liable for medical negligence.

Call Us for Help

If you were recently in the hospital and you suffered harm due to nurses or doctors ignoring alarms, contact a skilled San Jose medical malpractice attorney. We will review your case and help you decide on the best course of action. Call (408) 289-1417 for a free consultation at Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. today.

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