New research suggests that doctors and nurses are overwhelmed, but it may not be because they're juggling too many patients. Instead, a study found alarms are causing fatigue and slower responses.
The constant noise of beeping alarms is creating what the study calls "alarm fatigue," and although it may seem counter-intuitive, researchers also found that the din can lead to dangerous delays in treatment.
"You really have trouble being able to focus and prepare for your day," Linda Hamilton, a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Children's Hospital, told FOX 9 News.
According to the study by the joint commission, doctors and nurses sometimes ignore the alarms when there is a real patient emergency since because the constant, interrupting beeps don't convey how serious a call can be.
"It's very easy to kind of blank and say, 'You know, I think I need to attend to this right now,' and then that noise comes on and you forget and lose your place," Hamilton explained. "It interferes with safety at the bedside as well."
Hamilton, who also heads the Minnesota Nurse's Association, has been working with newborns for years, and she says conflicting or confusing alarms lead to stressful situations.
"Because you have more than one baby you are caring for and both alarms go off, you have to look and decide which one you deal with first," Hamilton said.
In fact, the study linked constantly beeping alarms in hospital as a possible cause of more than 500 patient deaths, and Hamilton says the results show a new standard for determining urgency needs to be developed.
"Sometimes the loudest alarm in there can be one of the least important," she explained. "Which alarms are going to be life-threatening? They should sound different than an alarm that a kid wiggled his toe."
The Minnesota Nurse's Association wants to give guidance to hospital leaders who upgrade their machines to ensure that alarms are clearly differentiated, and they also hope to work with device manufacturers to establish a universal standard of sound while hospitals work to limit noise without compromising patient safety.