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4 Ways to Combat Alarm Fatigue in Healthcare Facilities

hospital bed with call system remote hanging on bed rail

Responding efficiently to alerts and alarms triggered by patients using nurse call systems and by the facility’s security systems is essential for patient and staff safety and well-being. Efficiency and quick call response times matter and can be a case of life and death in some situations. Longer call response times can be caused by several factors, including alarm fatigue. Here is what to know about alarm fatigue and some ways to combat alarm fatigue in healthcare facilities:

What is Alarm Fatigue?

The National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists defines alarm fatigue as the sensory overload caused by an overwhelming number of alarms that leads to desensitization and nonreactivity to those alarms.

This can become common especially when many of the alarms are nuisance alarms, false alarms, or non-actionable alarms. When alarm fatigue occurs, this desensitization can result in ignored or silenced alarms, delayed response to alarms, missed alarms, and more; all of which can become critical safety issues.

4 Ways to Combat Alarm Fatigue in Healthcare Facilities

Alarm fatigue affects nurses and clinicians, patients, and their families. This is why it is considered one of the common security threats and vulnerabilities of hospitals. The overwhelming number of alarms, especially when they are not alerting issues, can cause anxiety all around in addition to wasting valuable resources, time, and energy.

Improving efficiency and care by reducing false alarms and combating alarm fatigue can have a positive impact on staff and patient experience and well-being. Here are a few ways to combat alarm fatigue in healthcare facilities:

1. Review Current Inventory, Resources, Policies, and Procedures

One of the best ways to combat alarm fatigue in healthcare facilities is to take stock of everything in your current facility and operations and identify areas for immediate improvement. Similar to conducting a building vulnerability assessment, you’re essentially conducting an audit of your current inventory, resources, policies, and procedures with effective alarm management and alarm safety at the forefront.

This will give you a starting point of things to start improving beyond what is obvious on the surface and identify where you need to train your team on your security systems. If you are short-staffed, hiring more staff can help with alarm management and reduce alarm fatigue. An issue or redundancy in an outdated procedure or policy could be contributing to alarm fatigue, but may not be as obvious until you do a proper review. You could even find that you have alarms triggered in areas or situations where no alarm is needed!

2. Use Integrated Products and Systems

Between equipment monitors, physiologic monitors, physical safety alarms, wearables, and other products and systems, there is a ton of potential for alarms. Cardiac monitors, wander management wearables, IV pumps, bed exit alarms, mobile duress alarms, etc. can result in situations where there are hundreds of alarms per patient per day.

With 80-99% of alarms being false alarms and not requiring clinical intervention, it’s easy to see how alarm fatigue can occur. If your facility currently has separate systems and products that all send their own alarms, upgrading to integrated products and systems to consolidate this information can help reduce nuisance alarms. This can help ensure that alarms and alerts that go out are more likely to be “real” alarms and that healthcare staff are spending time responding to what is important. This becomes even more important when there are staff attack alarms in the mix.

3. Implement an Advanced Nurse Call System

With nursing units receiving an average of 7,000 patient-initiated calls per month, you need a system in place to manage those calls and responses. An advanced nurse call system can provide the right mix of alerting devices and an integrated system to back up managing calls and alerts. Choosing the best nurse call system for your facility can make a big difference.

Nurse call systems improve patient safety, improve response times, and can even help reduce false alarms. Alerts can be viewed, claimed, managed, and monitored on the go. The best systems can also be customized to fit your operations and often also provide automated, customizable workflows and parameters to help manage calls as they come in.

These are all essential components of nurse call systems that also allows adjustments to alarm parameter thresholds to reduce nuisance alarms. Alarm settings can be customized and adjusted to individual patient needs, per unit, and more. Any wearables integrated with the system can be monitored for proper function and maintenance to avoid alarms caused by an equipment malfunction.

4. Integrate With an Incident Management System

One of the main reasons to use incident management software is to monitor your facility and be able to identify areas for improvement. Being able to integrate emergency call, nurse call, and other security systems with an incident management system allows you to generate reports and review what is going on in and around your facility.

This can be a useful method for seeing where and how alarm fatigue is at risk of occurring and gives you valuable insights on how to address it before it becomes an issue. Doing this periodically could highlight a missing security product, system, or integration that needs to be included in security budget planning.

You could also identify a need for changing or improving a specific process or workflow. This approach allows you to continue to monitor and make improvements over time to ensure the security, health, and safety of your facility and everyone in it.

Increase Efficiency and Combat Alarm Fatigue With Comprehensive Healthcare Security

These are just a few ways to combat alarm fatigue in healthcare facilities, including hospitals, assisted living facilities, senior living facilities, and more. Comprehensive healthcare security solutions that are installed correctly, integrated well, and customized for your operations make a big difference in combating alarm fatigue, increasing efficiency, and securing your facility overall. If you need to improve your healthcare facility’s security, contact NEPPS at 1-800-736-1456 to schedule a free site assessment.