Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sounding The Alarms...Of Malpractice

Hospitals employees are suffering from "alarm fatigue," according to a recent study from the Joint Commision on Accredidation of Health Care Organizations (JCAHO), which sets standards for and accredits hospitals.

The problem? Too much beeping and alarming, apparently. Staff is becoming immune or turning off the very device alarms which are supposed to protect patient safety. How big is the scope of the problem? The JCAHO estimates that at least 80 deaths have been attributable to alarm fatigue over the last three years. And this  problem is probably low because hospitals are not even required to report "alarm related" deaths.

This is astonishing. It is a sad commentary on our medical system when people are dying in hospitals not from serious disease or trauma complications, but a patient safety alarm that's ignored or turned off. To be sure, some of the problem stems from staff confusion due to a lack of standardization amongst device manufacturers. As the article cogently points out, some devices alarm or beep when functioning normally, whereas others alarm if the patient's medical status changes.

However, doesn't this sound like a problem that is correctible in this day and age? We hear time and time again that the U.S. has "the best medical system in the world." In many respects, this is true, but it is such an oversimplification, and this data proves that point. When the equivalent of a busload of people have died due to an unanswered or ignored alarm, and hospitals are not even required to report such inexcuseable deaths, that doesn't sound like a medical system that the rest of the world should envy or aspire to.

Reminds me of what Will Rogers once said: "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."