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Reporting finds 'alarm fatigue' to blame in patient deaths

Life support monitor
A life-support monitor. (Photo: RambergMediaImages via Flickr)

In January, a patient at one of the country's best hospitals suffered a fatal heart attack while 10 nurses on duty did not respond to repeated alarms from his cardiac monitor. They told investigators that they did not recall hearing the beeps warning of the patient's falling heart rate.

State and federal health investigators, in part, blamed a phenomenon that is little known outside hospitals: alarm fatigue. The hospital workers were desensitized to alarms after hearing them constantly throughout the workday.

Boston Globe reporter Lizbeth Kowalczyk decided to look at how often alarm fatigue is a factor in patient deaths, on a national level and in Massachusetts. The sources and techniques she used to report the stories, which she shares in this article for AHCJ members, could be used by other reporters to write about alarm fatigue in their states, but also may be applicable to other topics.

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