Anyone who walks through most hospitals hears a lot of alarms. But ECG alarms have been reduced almost 90 percent in the intensive care units in the past year at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Nurses have been carefully eliminating unnecessary alarms to prevent alarm fatigue.
"The sheer number of alarms has caused a 'cry wolf' effect," said Sue Sendelbach, director of Nursing Research at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, part of Allina Health.
Abbott Northwestern researchers became concerned about alarm fatigue after reports of patients dying throughout the country because emergency alarms went unnoticed.
Sendelbach and Stacy Jepsen, clinical nurse specialist, co-authored evidence-based practice standards on alarm fatigue that received national attention in 2013. Since then, she and others have worked to change alarm settings so nurses only hear the ones that are really important.
When Abbott Northwestern nurses began their quality improvement project, they found that each patient in cardiac intensive care had an average of 28.5 alarms each day. The work of an interdisciplinary team, lead by certified nurse specialist Sharon Wahl, successfully reduced this to three alarms per day.
This year, they will see if their process will work in other areas of the hospital as well.
Jepsen, Wahl and Sendelbach will share the results of their work March 7 at the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialist's meeting in Coronado, Calif. In 2016, All U.S. hospitals will need to have alarm fatigue prevention plans in place to support their Joint Commission accreditations.