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Clinical Alarms Shown To Take Up 35% Of Nurses’ Time?!

CalmWave Blog

Clinical Alarms Shown To Take Up 35% Of Nurses’ Time?!

Understanding Alarm Fatigue and Exploring Solutions for Improved Patient Care


Introduction: Navigating the Symphony of Patient Safety


In the realm where compassion and science unites, nurses stand as the pillars of patient well-being. Their tireless dedication, knowledge, and vigilance orchestrate the healing process within hospitals and intensive care units. Amidst their commitment to optimal patient outcomes, nurses face an insidious challenge: alarm fatigue.


Alarm Fatigue: Impacts on Patient Safety


Alarm fatigue: Impacts on Patient Safety,” by Ruskin, K.J. and Hueske-Kraus, D., is a significant study that delves into the consequences of alarm fatigue within the healthcare setting. The study sheds light on how the incessant barrage of alarms from medical devices affects both patient safety and the efficiency of healthcare providers. One of the standout findings is the revelation that nurses spend a substantial 35% of their time managing alarms, diverting their attention away from direct patient care. This diversion of time has a considerable impact on nurses’ ability to provide thorough and compassionate patient interactions. The study emphasizes the urgent need to address alarm fatigue, as it heavily compromises both patient outcomes, as well as nurses’ well-being.  Another interesting note was that in over 90% of the alarms, nurses did NOT respond in under a minute, if at all.   The idea that this can be considered normal and acceptable practice is staggering.


Defining Alarm Fatigue: A Closer Look


Alarm fatigue isn’t a mere buzzword; it’s a critical issue with profound implications. Gradual desensitization to medical device alarms designed to alert healthcare providers about critical patient changes can paradoxically lead to their significance being diminished.  Simply put:  When alarms are ignored, people can die.

To gauge the gravity of this, let’s delve into “Alarm fatigue: Impacts on Patient Safety”, which highlights how alarm fatigue affects nurses’ efficiency, with an unacceptable 35% of their time devoted to managing alarms. This time, diverted from direct patient care, hampers their ability to provide comprehensive attention and care to the patients who need their care.  A Johns Hopkins study infamously documented as high as 771 alarms per patient per day in one ICU.  Anyone who’s had the misfortune to stay in an ICU, or visit a family member in the ICU, has experienced the cacophony of alarms invading the hallways, disrupting patients and their caregivers at all hours of the night and day.  It’s no surprise that nurses become desensitized to all the noise.


Contributing Factors: Unraveling the Web of Complexity


Alarm fatigue’s prevalence isn’t solely due to one factor; it’s a blend of contributors. To understand these nuances, let’s turn to “Determining Factors of Alarm Fatigue among Nurses in Intensive Care Units—A Polish Pilot Study“. This research unveils the variables entangled in alarm fatigue, including the array of alarms from diverse medical devices. The study found that the frequency of alarms, alongside psychological stress, contributes to nurses’ fatigue and therefore further consequences like irritability, low quality of life, low positive patient safety attitudes, and more.

Alarm fatigue reverberates through patient care and nurses’ morale. Overlooked alarms risk delayed interventions, compromised patient outcomes, and even medical complications. Missed alarms, amidst incessant noise, exemplify alarm fatigue’s potential to alter patient care. The relentless cycle chips away at nurses’ morale, transforming meaningful patient interactions into a constant alarm management struggle.   

We’ve tackled some of the most common causes of alarm fatigue in other articles, but what about the specific causes of false alarms?   One of the most obvious feedback is that nurses feel alarms are not ‘patient specific’, but it’s also true that there is often too little understanding of the monitoring equipment and settings, leading to improper customization.  Today, 80-99% of alarms are considered non-actionable!   If we can reduce the ‘noise’ due to over-alarming, we’re making a significant dent in the daily challenge of nurses’ workload.

Nurse retention and staff burnout are challenges throughout healthcare today, and much needs to be done to tackle these issues.   There’s no one silver-bullet, but alarms are surprisingly one of the most significant sources of data to track what the day-to-day clinical environment looks like.   Every patient in the ICU is connected to monitors, with hundreds, if not thousands of signals transmitted per hour. Leveraging this information in concert with treatment plans like medications, orders, plus ADT (admission, discharge, and transfer) data, paints one of the most steady, objective lenses of clinician workload: per unit, per shift… even per clinician.   In other industries, alarms have been proven to be a key source of ‘traffic’ that is a leading indicator of employee workload and retention.


Introducing CalmWave: Alarm Management Driving Efficiency and Patient Safety


Amidst this challenge, CalmWave AI software emerges as a beacon of innovation. The CalmWave AI-based software platform identifies non-actionable alarms, and provides the appropriate actions to eliminate them, while improving overall patient care. CalmWave transforms alarm management using artificial intelligence to streamline alarms, offering simple, actionable insights. Device settings optimization and broader operations health scoring are its hallmarks: the 2.5+ hours nurses spend on alarm management can be replaced by just 2 minutes implementing CalmWave’s device setting suggestions, unique to each patient, each unit, in real-time. This eliminates unnecessary alerts, letting nurses focus on patient well-being. Implementing CalmWave AI software yields multifaceted benefits. It realigns nurses’ focus on patient care, enhances patient safety, and nurtures nurse well-being.   A quieter ICU offers an improved healing environment for patients, and brings better peace of mind to patients’ families in an already stressful situation.

Prior to forming CalmWave, much of the team worked in Enterprise IT to not only tackle Alarm Fatigue, but also to address employee retention.   Their past experiences, and specifically success, underscore the critical correlation between alarm overload and staff burnout.


Conclusion: Towards a Brighter, Quieter Future


The halls of ICUs are constantly echoing alarms.   The issue has both reached unimaginable levels, yet providers struggle to get a grasp of how to make a change, vs. accepting these alarms (and the corresponding fatigu) as part of the status quo.   The pervasive issue underscores the need for disruptive, out-of-industry solutions like CalmWave. Let’s harmonize patient safety with healthcare efficiency.  For healthcare providers eager to reclaim valuable time lost to alarm management, improving nurses’ overall working environment, CalmWave is waiting to assist.

If you’re a healthcare provider and ready to give back 30% of the time they spend fussing with alarms, schedule time with CalmWave to learn more.




Ruskin K.J., Hueske-Kraus D. “Alarm fatigue: Impacts on Patient Safety.” Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare. Link

“Determining Factors of Alarm Fatigue among Nurses in Intensive Care Units—A Polish Pilot Study.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Link

Bitan Y., Meyer J., Shinar D., Zmora E. “Nurses’ reactions to alarms in a neonatal intensive care unit.”  Cogn Tech Work (2004) 6: 239–246. Link

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