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Hospital alarm misinterpretations can lead to deadly mistakes

Modern medical technology has made some amazing breakthroughs. Patients once had to rely on little more than x-rays, stethoscopes, and a doctor's educated opinion, but now we have sophisticated machines that can take detailed imaging and catch serious health issues in their earliest stages. It can't be argued that all this new technology has saved millions of lives in Georgia and everywhere else in the country.

However, new technology frequently comes with unforeseen challenges, and in the case of medical equipment, some problems can be deadly. Doctor errors related to electronic monitors have cost some patients their health, or even their lives. The hospital accrediting group Joint Commission released an alert to hospitals nationwide to draw attention to a serious problem with medical alarms. According to the group, at least two dozen deaths a year can be attributed to a failure to diagnose, understand, or even notice the beeping of electronic medical equipment in hospitals.

In most cases, medical professionals have become so desensitized to the constant beeping of alarms that they fail to notice when the sound is a more serious alert; hospital understaffing and the non-standardization of many of these machines are also culprits that have led to personal injury or even fatal medical errors.

Because hospitals aren't required to report these types of incidents to the commission, the group's executive vice president suspects the numbers are vastly underreported. But because hospitals strive for accreditation, the commission hopes their warning will lead to changes that educate doctors and nurses on equipment alarm issues, and protect patients.

It's unfortunate that miraculous technology can have drawbacks that can impede a patient's recovery. It's hoped that improved practices, and holding medical professionals legally responsible for hospital negligence, can put a stop to preventable situations like this.

Source: Yahoo! News, "Hospital group says 'alarm fatigue' can be deadly," Lindsey Tanner, April 8, 2013

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