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Part Two: New RN Guidance: So I am a Nurse, now what? (Alarm Fatigue)

Updated on May 2, 2016

Alarm Fatigue (part two)

Sorry for the gap between blogs, but this section is about alarm fatigue. What is alarm fatigue and how does it affect a new nurse? First, alarm fatigue is the constant alarms going off throughout the day that a nurse tunes them out, even the critical ones. Then, when a critical alarm does sound, no one responds. Second, being a new nurse, this type of subject is crucial, because missing a critical alarm when numerous alarms are triggered can be a life and death situation for the nurse’s patient.

In Boston, Massachusetts, a wrongful death lawsuit at Massachusetts General Hospital placed the blame on alarm fatigue in 2010. The April 2nd cardiac log showed the patient’s heart rate had dropped and eventually stopped for a twenty minute time period where no one came and attended to the patient. The staff attempted to resuscitate the man, but did not succeed. The nurse states that she did not hear the alarm and later it was found out that the alarm was on silent (from http://www.boston.com/whitecoatnotes/2013/04/08/joint-commission-warns-hospitals-that-alarm-fatigue-putting-patients-risk/F83X5l8iU7XSQtgmgp4WXO/story.html). A sobering example of alarm fatigue. Alarm fatigue desensitizes nurses to crucial alarms because other types of non-essential alarms have created an environment for the nurse to tune out all alarms as the example depicted above.

So, what needs to be done, how can tragedies be prevented? How can a new nurse stay afloat in an alarm world? Here are some tips:

  1. Come up with suggestions based on observations and documentation to remove nuisance alarms
  2. Follow policies at your facility and ask questions (be polite too), but do not go rogue.
  3. Work with local hospitals in reducing alarms
  4. Work with medical companies that seem to think that more alarms are better
  5. Teach nursing staff to recognize the real dangerous issue of alarm fatigue.

Now you maybe thinking, this is how nursing has always been, why look at beeping and buzzing now? Well, The Joint Commission stated in April of 2013 that alarm fatigue can jeopardize patients and urged hospitals to take a focused look into this serious patient safety issue (http://www.informationweek.com/healthcare/patient/hospitals-must-address-alarm-fatigue-joi/240152593).

The more you know as a new nurse, the more you can face challenges confidently, even alarm fatigue.

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