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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Sound the alarm: Patient safety is at stake

Joy Daughtery Dickinson is executive editor of the Hospital Group of publications at AHC Media in Atlanta and long-time editor and writer of Same-Day Surgery. She has won 10 national awards from the Specialized Information Publishers Association and the Association of Business Information & Media Companies for her blogging, news writing, and editing. She makes her home in southwest Georgia.

A relative of mine was hospitalized last year, and I spent a night in the hospital with her. All night long one of the alarms kept going off. It would get louder, then louder still. Eventually, someone would respond.

The next day, the alarm kept going off. I finally went out to the nursing station, just a few feet from my relative’s door. The nurse was busy chatting with a physician, but she eventually looked my way. I mentioned that the alarm was going off, and she came into my relative’s room. She then told us that they couldn’t hear the alarm at the nurse’s station. My relative’s room was the patient room closest to the nurses’ station. If they couldn’t hear that alarm, that meant they couldn’t hear anyone’s alarms. Why have a piece of equipment with an alarm if you can’t hear it? And why not alert the patient and/or family member to notify the nurses if the alarm goes off?

Problems with alarms aren’t unique to that hospital. In a list of top 10 patient safety concerns from ECRI Institute, alarm hazards were No. 1. Specifically, ECRI listed “inadequate alarm configuration policies and practices.

So what’s a hospital to do? Start by examining the problem as outlined in the ECRI Institute report. Then look to sources for fixing the problem, including the Institute’s alarm safety resource center. Other resources include a Sentinel Event Alert from The Joint Commission and a Patient Safety Advisory from the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority. Also, the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation is offering a free one-hour webinar on “Sounding the alarm: How accurate are your counts?” on Monday June 15 at noon ET. And don’t forget Healthcare Risk Management from our publisher. If you prevent even one adverse event, you’ve recouped the cost of your subscription. To see what Healthcare Risk Management has written about alarms, read this free story.

The time to address this issue is now. Jan. 1 is the deadline to meet the National Patient Safety Goal on Clinical Alarms from The Joint Commission. The Goal requires you to establish organization-wide policies and procedures, as well as educate staff. What can you do today to improve safety with your alarms? (Editor’s note: Obtain hospital-related breaking news as it happens on Twitter @HospitalReport.)