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Delayed treatment results from ignored alarms in Maryland


Maryland residents who have spent time in a hospital, either as a patient or as a visitor, will likely be familiar with the barrage of noises associated with medical care. Recent research indicates the constant sound of bells and whistles, alarms and tones may pose a risk to patient health. In fact, Maryland health officials warned all hospitals in the state about "alarm complacency" after receiving reports of several delayed treatment cases involving alarms.

In 2006, Maryland officials warned hospitals about the dangers of alarm complacency after receiving reports of eight cases wherein alarms were ignored to the detriment of the patient. Four of those cases resulted in death. Concern surrounds the fact that doctors, nurses and other hospital workers are desensitized to the many sounds and alarms going off in patient rooms at any given time. A large majority of the noise is the result of false alarms. For example, infusion pumps beep after medication has been fully distributed and ventilators sound an alarm when a patient coughs.

Reportedly, several hundred alarms sound per patient per day, a fact that can cause alarm fatigue in nurses and other hospital workers. Given the large number of false alarms, many nurses respond to alarm overload by ignoring it or shutting alarms down. Patient safety advocates have warned healthcare professionals of alarm fatigue for several years. However, the issue is taking on greater urgency because hospitals are utilizing more complex machines meant to save lives. Those machines can be noisy.

One instance wherein a patient lost her life because of a muted alarm resulted in a medical malpractice settlement for $6 million. The parents of a 17-year-old girl filed a lawsuit after learning that the respiratory monitor, used to measure a patient's respiration rate, in their daughter's room was muted. Because of this, medical staff was never alerted to the fact that the painkiller given to the patient had slowed her breathing so intensely that her brain was deprived of oxygen. What should've been a routine tonsillectomy ended in death when the girl passed away 15 days later.

Hospital doctors and nurses in Maryland are responsible for patients' well-being during a hospital stay. Delayed treatment like that associated with muting or ignoring alarms can result in catastrophic outcomes. Thankfully, the law provides for the right of families victimized by such negligence to seek reparation for damages.

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