Alarm Fatigue and How It Can Result in Medical Malpractice

Patients hospitalized after a surgery, for an illness or any other reason can face a variety of risks. Infection, a failed surgical procedure, and health getting progressively worse are some examples. But one danger that is less known, yet could pose a threat to a patient’s life, is alarm fatigue.

What is alarm fatigue and could it be medical malpractice? 

Nurses and other healthcare professionals hear hundreds of alarms every shift. There are various types of monitors and equipment used in a hospital setting. Cardiac, respiratory, blood pressure and arterial catheters are examples of machines that monitor a patient’s vital signs and may sound alarms when medical attention is necessary.

The danger is that the alarms start to blend into the background noise of a hospital, or nurses might decide to turn down or mute alarms. After all, many alarms are false positives. When healthcare professionals do not respond to an alarm requiring their attention, it can lead to serious injury or even death.

If the patient suffers harm because of the failure to respond to an alarm, it may entitle the patient to pursue a medical malpractice claim.

What can lead to alarm-related mistakes? 

The following are some of examples of alarm-related mistakes in healthcare settings: 

  • unable to discern between a critical and noncritical alarm;
  • too many false alarms;
  • constant beeping causes nurses to tune out the alarms;
  • alarm is disarmed/muted;
  • volume is turned down;
  • alarm is not audible in all areas;
  • nurse has numerous patients to care for; and
  • failure to reset alarm. 

Some of these examples are based on carelessness (such as forgetting to reset an alarm), while others are intentional (such as muting the machine). Regardless, both may be medical negligence and could lead to legal action if it causes a patient to suffer injuries.

Another alarm-related medical mistake may occur if a healthcare professional does not respond to a patient’s call for assistance. For example, a nurse may view a particular patient as difficult if she constantly presses the help button. So the nurse may wait before responding, which could turn out to be a fatal decision.

The beeps and blips that come from the machines can also indicate something is wrong and it requires resetting, new batteries, maintenance, or other action. If healthcare professionals ignore the warning that the equipment needs attention and it eventually fails, it could lead to serious problems that cause harm to the patient.

What legal options are available if alarm fatigue contributed to injuries or death?

A patient could go in for a relatively minor procedure and end up in a worse condition than before because of alarm fatigue or other alarm-related mistakes. A patient who is in the intensive care unit for a life-threatening condition could also be at risk of healthcare negligence related to alarm fatigue. Regardless, this is a serious problem that could be to blame when a patient is injured or dies.

It’s important to consult with legal counsel as soon as possible when there is suspicion of alarm fatigue having caused a patient’s injuries or death. An attorney can evaluate the details of the circumstances to determine if there is a case, and if so, advise the victim or the family of what options could be available.

Talk to an attorney at Gacovino, Lake & Associates for help evaluating legal options or pursuing a medical malpractice case. Call 800-550-0000 or contact us online to set up an appointment.

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