Various alarms devises are frequently used by nursing homes and hospitals to help keep staff updated as to changes in a resident’s condition or notified in circumstances where a patient may be at risk for harming themselves.
For example, in the case of patients who may be at risk for falling, an alarm on a patient’s bed or chair may alert staff that the patient has moved and staff should address the situation before a patient sustains a fall.
Similarly, in the case of patients on a ventilator, an alarm may be used to notify staff when there is a problem with the machine or when a patient’s oxygen level has dropped.
Theoretically, the use of alarms to notify staff in a change in a patient’s condition allows the staff to react and implement necessary care before the issue becomes a problem or results in an injury to a patient.
A recent article the Boston Globe by Liz Kowalczyk, “FDA working to trim hospital ‘alarm fatigue’” highlights a situation behind many medical malpractice and nursing home negligence cases when staff fail to timely respond to various alarms commonly used at facilities.
The Globe article discusses how medical staff at some facilities have become desensitized to the audio and visual cues provided by alarms to the point where patients suffer and injury or death due to a response delay— or complete response failure by facility staff.
In response to a widely recognized problem in the healthcare industry, the FDA is looking in alarm devises that provide more detailed information or even alarms that multitask and can take the place of several alarms used at facilities— all with the intention of providing staff with devices to more accurately respond to patient needs.
As a lawyer who has worked on cases involving circumstances where patients have suffered a serious fall-related injuries due to a delay in responding to a bed alarm and other cases where patients have literally suffocated to death due to malfunctions with ventilators that were never responded to, I truly hope the FDA’s inquest helps bring better medical devices to the market.
Unfortunately, my experience leads me to believe that facilities need to continue to give staff the essential tools necessary to performing their jobs by both teaching staff the significance of treating each alarm as an important situation and by providing sufficient staffing levels at facilities to assure that there is enough staff available to properly respond to such calls. As in the case of most medical care, technology is only as effective as the people whom are using it.
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