You have no doubt been in a hospital or nursing home and heard the incessant beeping of machines. Some of them are beeping for patient call lights, some are beeping because the IV bag is empty and some are beeping because they just need to be reset…but they are all beeping. And while this may not seem like a big deal, according to the Joint Commission, hospital staff who ignore the beeping vital sign alarms have led to at least 24 deaths each year.
Working in an environment where machines are constantly making loud noises and beeps can lead to the desensitization of many hospital and nursing home workers, leading them to sometimes ignore the noises. It can be compared to a mother who does not hear her child screaming at the top of its lungs, as she has learned to block the sound out momentarily. Experts believe it leads to a type of noise fatigue and a delay in urgency to discover why each machine is beeping.
According to the Joint Commission, around 80 deaths and 13 severe injuries occurred between January 2009 and June 2012 due to medical staff “tuning out” the beeping of hospital equipment. They also believe that the problem may be a bit more serious than the numbers would lead you to believe, as reporting of these incidents are completely voluntary.
With the advancements in technology, many of the hospital equipment is now completely computerized. This means that when there are malfunctions with equipment, the alarm systems usually sound a familiar beep…sounding like every other piece of equipment. Many medical workers are not able to tell the difference in an alarm sounding for a high blood pressure reading, a patient fall or a simple oxygen saturation monitor that has fallen off the finger of a patient.
So, what can you do to keep your loved ones safe in a hospital or nursing home setting? Make an effort to speak openly with nursing staff, voice any concerns you may have about patient alarm systems. One of the most important things to remember is that you are allowed to ask questions! Ask what kind of patient alarm systems the facility utilizes and how quickly the staff generally responds to those alarms. Be proactive about your loved one’s healthcare! They will thank you for it!