ACCE Healthcare Technology Foundation Reports
MedSun: Newsletter #9, November 2006

Clinical Alarms Improvement Needed
Clinical alarms that warn hospital personnel of patient problems are not as effective as they could be because of an unacceptable number of false and nuisance alarms, the complexity and number of alarms in the patient care environment, inadequate training of hospital staff, and a lack of alarm system standardization. These are among the findings reported in the first educational white paper published by the Healthcare Technology Foundation of the American College of Clinical Engineering (ACCE). A task force headed by Tobey Clark, Director of Instrumentation and Technical Services at the University of Vermont, and Yadin David, Director of Biomedical Engineering at Texas Children’s Hospital, surveyed clinical alarm use in January 2006 with 1,327 respondents, most of them registered nurses. False and nuisance alarms were largely seen as a significant problem that occurs frequently, disrupts patient care, reduces trust in alarms, and causes caregivers to sometimes disregard them.

The white paper also includes a review of clinical alarm-related literature, analysis of adverse event data (with many such reports found on the FDA MAUDE adverse event database), and summaries of forums held at national meetings. Task force members suggest that medical device manufacturers, clinical engineers, clinicians, risk managers, and standards agencies work together on alarm system design, improved integration into the clinical environment, standardization, and user training to increase the effectiveness of clinical alarms. At the same time, they caution health care organizations and clinicians to recognize the limitations of alarm systems and use them only as a tool in the overall assessment of patient condition.

The full text of the paper, entitled “Impact of Clinical Alarms on Patient Safety,” can be seen at the Foundation’s Web site.

Home Medical Devices and Hospital Stays,
The ACCE Foundation addresses questions that individuals who use apnea monitors, infusion pumps, or other medical devices at home may have if they need to be hospitalized and are confused about whether their devices can accompany them. A new brochure from the Healthcare Technology Foundation attempts to clarify this and other issues confronting patients who are facing hospital stays. The brochure, which was published as part of a public education outreach, notes that most hospitals have rules about bringing medical devices to the hospital from home, but that hospital admissions staff will work with patients to determine whether an individual’s device can be safely used in the hospital.

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