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Why Aren’t Unanswered Medical Device Alarms Considered a ‘Never Event’?

The term ‘Never Event’ within the medical field describes serious incidents that are entirely preventable because of guidance or safety recommendations providing robust barriers against them. Unanswered medical device alarms, while a significant concern, aren’t classified as such. This article delves into the reasons behind this classification. 

The Complexity of Medical Alarms: 

  • Different Alarm Priorities: Medical devices emit alarms of varying priorities. Not every alarm signals a life-threatening situation. Differentiating between alarm types and their urgency levels adds a layer of complexity to the ‘Never Event’ classification. 
  • Alarm Fatigue: Healthcare professionals can experience ‘alarm fatigue’, where they become desensitised to the frequent sounding of alarms. This isn’t due to negligence but rather the overwhelming number of alarms, many of which might not be critical. 

The Human Factor: 

  • Response Time Variability: The immediacy with which a medical professional can respond can vary based on several factors, including their location, the number of patients under their care, and the nature of the tasks they’re attending to. 
  • Dependence on Clinical Judgement: Often, attending to a patient goes beyond simply reacting to an alarm. Medical professionals use their clinical judgment in situations, sometimes prioritising a visible, ongoing patient issue over an alarm. 
  • People are Only Human: Staff can mishear, misinterpret, get distracted, think that they have dealt with something, when actually they were on their way to deal with it, but got diverted.

The Technological Aspect: 

  • Alarm Limitations: No technology is flawless. Alarms can occasionally produce false positives. Relying solely on technology without taking into account the expertise of the medical professional might not always result in the best patient care. 

Continuous Training and Education: 

  • Evolving Protocols: Medical institutions continuously train staff to handle alarms effectively, minimising response time while ensuring each alarm is addressed based on its criticality. 

Solutions like BEAMS: 

While unanswered medical device alarms aren’t classified as a ‘Never Event’, solutions like BEAMS by Tutum Medical demonstrate the industry’s commitment to mitigating this issue. By acoustically monitoring alarms and notifying healthcare professionals, systems like BEAMS make significant strides towards improving patient safety. 

Closing Thoughts: 

Classifying an event as a ‘Never Event’ is intricate. While unanswered medical alarms pose a valid concern, the number of variables involved might explain why they haven’t received that designation. However, with technological advancements and consistent training, the medical community remains devoted to ensuring the best outcomes for patients.  

If you’d like to know more about BEAMS, why not take a look at our video? Alternatively, please feel free to contact us for further information.  

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