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No easy solutions for alarm fatigue

The Boston Globe, February 15, 2011
Hospitals, monitor manufacturers, researchers, and federal regulators are grappling with how to reduce the rash of unheard and ignored alarms and other patient monitor problems --- which the Globe reported was linked to more than 200 deaths nationwide between 2005 and mid-2010, and, experts say, probably far, far more. But they are finding answers elusive. "If there were an obvious solution to this problem, we would have done it," said James Bagian, MD, the former chief patient safety officer for the Veterans Administration hospitals, where he said there have been multiple patient deaths and close calls because alarms were turned off or the volume was turned down. Solutions being explored range from relatively simple fixes to sophisticated technology. Some --- like UMass Memorial's effort to reduce the number of monitored patients --- are being tried out in hospitals where patients have died, while others are being tested in labs or debated by regulators. Most are expensive, however, and may not be practical, patient safety experts say, at a time when hospitals are under enormous pressure to cut costs.

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