Re-name Old Crisis to get a Nifty New One

Wow! ‘Alarm Fatigue’. A new buzzword!

Did we need another buzzword, or would some boring old word describe this situation better…

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) – UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester is stepping up efforts to prevent nurses from tuning out monitor warning alarms following the death of a patient whose alarms signaling a fast heart rate and potential breathing problems went unanswered for nearly an hour.

The patient who died was a sixty year old man. He should not have gone ten minutes without a nurse responding to his serious symptoms.

Why did an epidemic of ‘alarm fatigue’ break out in that hospital? Why so many alarms? To allow a stretched staff to monitor the maximum number of patients possible on an average shift, without reserve capacity for a bad shift where all the alarms are going off at once– that’s my guess.

When corporations brag about getting ‘lean and mean’, you better worry that things can get thin and nasty.

Alarms are dumb. They do not have the power of reason or any of the perception of a trained human being who comes to the bedside. They have their place, but are not a substitute for adequate staffing.

‘Understaffing’ is a boring old word we are tired of hearing, since nurses keep going on about it for decades of labor disputes and public lobbying. It’s hard to get a catchy headline going about understaffing. We’ve heard it all before.

But look at the obvious. When there’s constant screaming alarms and the staff is fatigued they need more staff.