Alarm Fatigue and Its Consequences

Senior (College 4th year) ・Healthcare&Medicine ・APA ・9 Sources

There has been a substantial increase in technology use in hospital sectors over the past years. The advance in technology has led to emergence of sophisticated monitoring equipment, most of which have built-in alarms that alert the authority responsible concerning a deviancy from a normal situation. Alarms can be fitted in feeding pumps, infusion pumps, wound vacuum devices, ventilators, patient call systems, and respiratory monitoring equipment (Bogner, 2004).  Despite protecting the patient, alarms may cause increased unit noise and alarm fatigue. The noise produced may prompt clinicians to make inappropriate actions like disabling alarms, lowering the volume of the alarm, or extending alarm limits outside a reasonable range (Lacker, 2011, Rizk, 2016). According to Washington Post (2013), alarm fatigue may cause clinicians to either ignore or shut the alarm off which may result in serious consequences.

In hospital A, a patient was transferred to a surgical intensive care after an operation. Unfortunately, he developed cardiac arrest at the time the assigned nurse was out of the room. The alarm sound volume had been set too low making it hard for clinicians outside the patient’s room to hear it. Moreover, despite having a central monitoring system in the hospital, the hospital did not have a specific staff to watch and listen to the monitors.  There was a long and fatal delay before another staff responded to the tracing observed on the central monitor.

Hospital A was prompted to take aggressive steps after the incidence. Staff members were trained on how to use monitoring equipment. During training, one nurse admitted that she did not know that silencing an alarm also silenced the crisis alarm (Pennsylvania Institute of Technology, 2014, Elhabashy, 2015). Having knowledge on different alarm signal will help in taking appropriate action by any hospital staff (AACN, 2015, Agrawal, 2016). In addition, the hospital ensured that central monitoring system was working effectively and continuously. Likewise, monitor-watchers were hired to always keep an eye on and listen to the monitors (Kowalczyk, 2011).


AACN. (2015). Critical Care Nurse. The Journal for high acuity,progressive, and critical care nursing, 35(4).

Agrawal, A. (2016). Safety of Health IT: Clinical Case Studies. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Bogner, M. S. (2004). Misadventures in health care: Inside stories. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.


Kowalczyk, L. (2011, February 13). SAFE STAFFING FOR HEALTH & SAFETY. Retrieved from

Lacker, C. (2011). Physiologic Alarm Management. Pennsylvania Patient Safety Advisory, 8(3), 105-108.

Pennsylvania Institute of Technology. (2014, January 12). Hot Topic in Nursing | Alarm Fatigue ICU. Retrieved from

Rizk, K. (2016). What’s the Problem with Clinical Alarms in Hospitals. Human and Health, 36, 40-41.

The Washington Post. (2013, July 7). Too much noise from hospital alarms poses risk for patients. Retrieved from

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