It doesn’t take much effort to learn how frustrated clinicians are with the traditional nurse call system. Just type “nurse call system problems” into Google’s search engine, and you’ll get more than 55 million results in a matter of seconds. For years, nurse call systems have been trapped in the past. The traditional nurse call system—a complex system of electrical wiring based on technology from the 1970s—is typically unintelligent and outdated, creating alerts without context. Alerts are often delivered without enough information to properly respond.. Traditional technology is basically an “all call” to anyone and everyone. These non-specific alerting events can lead to alarm fatigue, which occurs when clinicians are exposed to an excessive amount of alarms. Alarm fatigue often results in desensitization and even missed alarms.
Hospitals are noisy environments—just ask any nurse how many bells, whistles and alarms they hear during a 12-hour shift. Depending on the hospital unit, the number of alarms per patient per day can reach several hundred, resulting in thousands of alarm signals on every unit and tens of thousands throughout the hospital every day, according to the Joint Commission.
Spend time in any ICU, and you can’t miss the alarms. The blaring, incessant beeps that randomly erupt from machines around the bedside are startling at first, but the noise is so constant it eventually becomes part of the background.
Alarm fatigue has gotten a lot of press over the past few years, but it’s not the only dangerous alarm-related issue facing hospitals. A lesser-known condition is finally getting some much needed attention. It’s called “auditory masking,” and like its cousin, alarm fatigue, it threatens the safety of patients and the sanity of the nursing teams who care for them.