The Joint Commission's Sentinel Event database, which tracks serious safety-related events, contains reports of 98 alarm-related events between January 2009 and June 2012, including 80 deaths and 13 serious injuries, the organization said in the alert.
As many as 85% to 99% of device alarms are false, or nuisance alarms, which don't require intervention, according to data cited in the alert. Bombarded by constant alarms—often several hundred per day or more—clinicians “may turn down the volume of the alarm setting, turn it off or adjust the alarms settings outside the limits that are safe and appropriate for the patient—all of which can have serious, often fatal, consequences,” the Joint Commission said.
The Joint Commission included in the Sentinel Alert a series of recommendations to address alert fatigue, such as establishing guidelines for tailoring alarms for patients and conducting regular inspections of alarm-equipped devices.
The group also said it's considering creating a National Patient Safety Goal specifically targeting alarm fatigue. Current hospital goals for 2013 address topics such as surgical safety, staff communication, infection prevention and medication safety.
The Joint Commission is just one of many organizations that have focused in recent years on device alarm safety. The ECRI Institute, a Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based not-for-profit safety group, has included alarm fatigue on its annual list of top 10 health technology hazards since 2010. For 2013, alarm hazards were ranked No. 1.