Alarm fatigue

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Alarm fatigue or alert fatigue occurs when one is exposed to a large number of frequent alarms (alerts) and consequently becomes desensitized to them. Desensitization can lead to longer response times or missing important alarms.[1] Alarm fatigue occurs in many industries, including construction[2] and mining[3] (where backup alarms sound so frequently that they often become senseless background noise), healthcare[4] (where electronic monitors tracking clinical information such as vital signs and blood glucose sound alarms so frequently, and often for such minor reasons, that they lose the urgency and attention-grabbing power which they are intended to have), and the nuclear power industry. Like crying wolf, such false alarms rob the critical alarms of the importance they deserve. Alarm management and policy is critical to prevent alarm fatigue.

Healthcare[edit]

The constant sounds of alarms and noises from blood pressure machines, ventilators and heart monitors causes a "tuning out" of the sounds due to the brain adjusting to stimulation. This issue is present in hospitals, in home care providers, nursing homes and other medical facilities alike. The Joint Commission's sentinel event reports 80 alarm-related deaths and 13 alarm-related serious injuries over the course of a few years. On April 18, 2013, the Joint Commission issued a sentinel event alert that highlighted the widespread problem of alarm fatigue in hospitals. Their recommendations included establishing guidelines to tailor alarm settings, training all members of the clinical team on safe use of alarms, and sharing information about alarm-related incidents.[4] This alert resulted in designation in 2014 of clinical alarm system safety as a National Patient Safety Goal and it remains a goal in 2017.[5] This Goal will force hospitals to establish alarm safety as a priority, identify the most important alarms, and establish policies to manage alarms by January 2016.[6][7] ECRI Institute has listed alarms on its "Top Ten Hazards List"[8] since 2007; in 2014 alarms was listed as the number one hazard.

Unintended outcomes of alarms[edit]

The large number of alarms, especially of false alarms, has led to several unintended outcomes. Some consequences are disruption in patient care,[9] desensitization to alarms,[10] anxiety in hospital staff and patients,[10] sleep deprivation and depressed immune systems,[10] misuse of monitor equipment, and missed critical events.[11] Some additional outcomes include workload increase,[10] interference with communication,[11] wasted time, patient dissatisfaction,[11] and unnecessary investigations, referrals, or treatments.[11]

Solutions[edit]

There are many solutions proposed to reduce alarm fatigue in healthcare settings.[12]

Changing alarm sounds and parameters[edit]

One recommendation is to change alarm sounds to be softer and friendlier in order to improve identification of alarms by sound alone. Another recommendation is for clinicians to adjust the parameters and delays to alarms to match the patient’s traits and status. However, this directly trades sensitivity for specificity.[10][11]

Centralized alarms[edit]

Another solution that has been proposed is to use centralized alarms. In this approach, alarms don't fire at the bedside, but fire at a central monitoring station where a trained healthcare provider evaluates each alarm and alerts the bedside clinician if they should intervene or evaluate the patient.[4][13]

Changing alarm algorithms[edit]

Biomedical engineers may improve monitors by adjusting alarm algorithms. Currently, the alarm systems are very sensitive but not specific. This leads to a large amount of false alarms. The algorithms used can be adjusted to balance between sensitivity and specificity to limit the number of false alarms and still detect true deterioration.[14]

Child abduction[edit]

The amber alert system used in countries such as the United States and Canada to notify the public of a child abduction has been theorized as being susceptible to alarm fatigue.[15][16] A 2018 abduction in Thunder Bay resulted in an amber alert being sent to cell phones as far away as Ottawa, some 15 hours' drive from Thunder Bay, followed one hour later by a second alert which notified individuals that the first alert had been resolved.[17] A similar double alert occurred on a single night in February 2019, leading to concerns over alert fatigue.[18]

Public transport[edit]

In the New York City Subway, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority installed sirens in 2006 to discourage the improper use of emergency exits; the sirens had little effect other than irritating passengers and were removed in 2015.[19]

Alarm fatigue has sometimes contributed to public transport disasters such as the 2009 train collision in Washington, DC, caused by a faulty track circuit which failed to detect the presence of a stopped train. Though the automatic train control system generated alerts notifying train dispatchers to the presence of such faulty circuits, an investigation by the US National Transportation Safety Board concluded that "the extremely high incidence of track-circuit alarms [about 8,000 per week] would have thoroughly desensitized" the dispatchers.[20]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Alarm Related Terms" (PDF). Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  2. ^ Blackmon, R.B.; A. K. Gramopadhye (1 June 1995). "Improving Construction Safety by Providing Positive Feedback on Backup Alarms". Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. 121 (2): 166–171. doi:10.1061/(asce)0733-9364(1995)121:2(166). ISSN 1943-7862.
  3. ^ Bliss, JP; Gilson, RD; Deaton, JE (November 1995). "Human probability matching behaviour in response to alarms of varying reliability". Ergonomics. 38 (11): 2300–12. doi:10.1080/00140139508925269. PMID 7498189.
  4. ^ a b c "The Joint Commission Sentinel Event Alert" (PDF). Medical device alarm safety in hospitals. The Patient Safety Advisory Group. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  5. ^ PDF
  6. ^ The Joint Commission. "The Joint Commission Announces 2014 National Patient Safety Goal" (PDF). Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  7. ^ Monegain, Bernie. "'Alarm Fatigue' Endangers Patients." Healthcare IT News. HIMSS Media, 9 April 2013. Web. 24 January 2014
  8. ^ "ECRI Institute Releases Top 10 Health Technology Hazards Report for 2014". Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2015-09-10.
  9. ^ Healthcare Technology Foundation. "2011 National Clinical Alarms Survey" (PDF). Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e Borowski, M; Görges, M; Fried, R; Such, O; Wrede, C; Imhoff, M (April 2011). "Medical device alarms". Biomedizinische Technik/Biomedical Engineering. 56 (2): 73–83. doi:10.1515/bmt.2011.005. PMID 21366502.
  11. ^ a b c d e Graham, KC; Cvach, M (January 2010). "Monitor alarm fatigue: standardizing use of physiological monitors and decreasing nuisance alarms". American Journal of Critical Care. 19 (1): 28–34, quiz 35. doi:10.4037/ajcc2010651. PMID 20045845.
  12. ^ Copeland, CS. "National Patient Safety Goals: Reducing the Harm Associated with Clinical Alarm Systems". Vitalacy.
  13. ^ Cantillon DJ, Loy M, Burkle A, Pengel S, Brosovich D, Hamilton A, Khot UN, Lindsay BD (2016). "Association Between Off-site Central Monitoring Using Standardized Cardiac Telemetry and Clinical Outcomes Among Non-Critically Ill Patients". JAMA. 316 (5): 519–24. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.10258. PMID 27483066.
  14. ^ Blum, JM; Tremper, KK (February 2010). "Alarms in the intensive care unit: too much of a good thing is dangerous: is it time to add some intelligence to alarms?". Critical Care Medicine. 38 (2): 702–3. doi:10.1097/ccm.0b013e3181bfe97f. PMID 20083933.
  15. ^ Snow, Robert L. (2008). Child Abduction: Prevention, Investigation, and Recovery: Prevention. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313347870.
  16. ^ Wood, Daniel B. (2017-08-07). "Amber alert fatigue? Alerts on cell phones set Californians buzzing".
  17. ^ "Mobile users warn of 'apathy' after alerts ring out for Thunder Bay abduction". CBC News. 2018-05-14.
  18. ^ "More research needed to determine if alert fatigue is true, says prof". CBC News. 2019-02-16.
  19. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/01/nyregion/exit-alarms-in-the-subways-are-silenced-by-the-mta.html
  20. ^ "July 27, 2010 Railroad Accident Report – Collision of Two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail Trains Near Fort Totten Station Washington, D.C. June 22, 2009". NTSB. July 27, 2010. Retrieved April 10, 2012.