To Respond or Not to Respond? Overcoming Alarm Fatigue in Nursing

If you could change one thing about your current nursing job, what would it be? If you would opt to lower the noise levels in your hospital, nursing home or urgent care clinic, you’re in good company. In a recent survey, more than 95% of participating hospitals reported a strong commitment to addressing alarm fatigue. 

Alarm fatigue refers to the dissociation and delays that occur when nurses hear too many patient alarms all at once. A study published in Healthcare Informatics Research found some intensive care units have more than 45 alarms per patient per hour.

With the excess of alarms sounding, it can be difficult to discern which ones are urgent and which ones are false alarms. The same study determined 68% were false alarms, which came to a total of 1,394 per day. 

What can nurses do to help with alarm management and combat alarm fatigue? In this article, we’ll share several practical ways to minimize noise, enhance productivity and avoid burnout. 

Implications of Excessive Alarms

“Medical device alarms are designed to save lives, but excessive and misleading alerts remain a leading technological hazard in hospitals,” according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. It noted that there were 566 alarm-related deaths in a three-year span.

Patient harm and delays in treatment are unfortunate results of alarm fatigue in medical environments. Caregivers hear hundreds of medical device alarms in a day, which can cause them to ignore alerts or have trouble distinguishing between different sounds. No standardization of sounds adds to the problem.

Alarm fatigue can easily lead to burnout for nurses and other medical professionals. Burnout refers to a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion related to stress. Hearing a large number of alarms may cause you to experience unusual neck and back pain, shortness of breath or even a lack of compassion toward your patients. If you suspect that you’re succumbing to a numb feeling at work, it’s time to step back and assess noise levels in your work environment. 

The specifics of self-care differ for everyone, but the general rule is to try to relax when you’re away from work. Take the time to journal, sit around and watch movies or go out with friends. Whatever it is you do, find something that centers you and gives you a much-deserved break from work.

Solutions to Alarm Fatigue

Luckily, there are concrete steps that healthcare providers can take to reduce the likelihood of alarm fatigue. The steps for alarm management, released by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, include:  

  • Assemble an alarm management team composed of technology experts and professional caregivers. 
  • Establish a timeline for noise reduction and track any changes in patient satisfaction. 
  • Educate staff on protocols for changing monitors’ default settings. 
  • Create custom settings for each department of the hospital or nursing home and implement those changes immediately. 
  • Eliminate unnecessary monitors for all short- and long-term patients. 
  • Streamline communication systems to make sure the appropriate staff member receives urgent calls in a timely fashion.

You can provide leadership as your hospital makes these vital procedural changes. If your hospital doesn’t have a point person, you may be able to drum up enough support to form a committee. Placing the emphasis strongly on patient satisfaction and safety is a great place to start.  Enhance patient care and become a leader by earning your online RN to BSN. The streamlined program from Illinois College is specifically designed with working nurses in mind. You can fast-track your degree program and finish in 12 months, or you can go part-time for 18 months. We know that our students have busy schedules, so we offer them the opportunity to pause the program for an eight-week term and then come back to class without having to reapply.