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Clinical alarms: Getting the word out

All things being equal, I suspect that folks are wrestling with the very expansive elements of the Sentinel Event Alert regarding the management of medical device alarms (Sentinel Event Alert #50). I think the important thing to do is to first document a risk assessment that takes into account the various clinical alarm systems, identifying those that might legitimately be considered critical and use that as the starting point. I think it would behoove you to involve the folks in clinical engineering as they probably have performance data that would be very useful (equipment that they find during preventive maintenance activities that perhaps are not appropriately configured for audibility, etc.), it would also be important to include any potential occurrence reporting data that might indicate that there have been issues involving audibility of clinical alarms, etc. To be honest, I am not so sure that any one organization’s approach will be sufficiently universal to be used across the board beyond a simple “these are the specific risks involved with the clinical alarms you’ll be using” (in recognition that this may vary based on clinical location/service) and “these are the specific strategies we are using to appropriately eliminate/mitigate those risks.” I know that may sound like an overly simple approach, but if you do a good job on the risk assessment groundwork, you will have everything you need to manage the education process. As a further enticement, the Sentinel Event Alert web page noted above also includes links to a couple of podcasts that discuss the Alert in pretty fair detail. I don’t know that I’d recommend listening to it on the treadmill, but it’s probably a good way to combine work and exercise…