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What Is Alarm Fatigue?

Alarm Fatigue MonitorIn a hospital setting, the professionals that a patient most often interacts with are the nurses, and most nurses are extremely competent and able. However, they often will become desensitized or inured to cries for help. This is a very real phenomenon called alarm fatigue, and while it is comprehensible, even logical, it is not an excuse for a lapse in the quality of care. It is possible to hold a nurse accountable for medical malpractice, though it is more rare to do so than to sue a doctor.

What Is Alarm Fatigue?

It is estimated that somewhere between 72 percent and 99 percent of alarms heard each day in a hospital do not actually merit intervention. However, nurses must still expend effort getting to each patient when an alarm tells them that they should. Alarm fatigue is the condition that results - nurses become desensitized to the alarms, figuring there is nothing inherently wrong because there has been nothing wrong many times before.

There are numerous associated causes, all of which are tangentially associated with negligence and/or failure to adequately perform one’s job. The most often seen include:

  • Parameters (the range in which the device is sound an alarm) being too tight;
  • Malfunctioning alarms or malfunctioning machines;
  • Inability of staff to figure out which room is the source of the sound;
  • Poor placement of electrodes for procedures like electrocardiograms (EKG), which leads to frequent false alarms; and
  • Several other similar causes that are basically the result of poor training or a desensitization to alarms.

Alarm fatigue is a systemic issue, and sometimes, an individual medical professional may not be held responsible, simply because of the combination of factors that may result in an alarm being ignored. Sometimes, however, the injury or death of a patient may be laid at an individual doctor or nurse’s door.

Malpractice and “Tech Deaths”

While it is human nature to react the same way to the same stimulus, it is still not excusable in the context of patient care. A nationally known case out of Boston involved a woman who was found unresponsive, with her breathing tube removed; not only were alarms allegedly not heard in that situation, but two nurses were found to not understand how the alarms worked. Both of these facts helped to show that the care provided in this case fell below standard. Such technology-related deaths are becoming a larger portion of the hospital mortality rate than they used to be.

Medical malpractice cases must show that the care received by the patient was substandard; that is, that it failed to conform to the degree of care that a medical professional must provide. If a doctor or nurse of a similar age and experience level would have cared for you or your loved one in the same way that the medical professional in question did, then you may not have a case. If not, then you may allege malpractice and/or negligence, depending on the facts of your situation.

Seek Experienced Assistance

While hospitals continue to develop potential solutions to cut down on alarm fatigue, it is still possible that you may become the victim of negligence or mistake in the meantime. The dedicated San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. understand that even if a incident is understandable, it is not excusable, especially when it may affect your health or that of your loved ones. Contact our office today at (408) 289-1417 to set up a free initial appointment. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of San Benito, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Monterey and Alameda.

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My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.