In 2004, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations included safer monitors as ones of its national patient safety goals. The Joint Commission suggested that hospitals had become too dependent on alarms. They advised them to routinely test monitors and develop better staff training.
Unfortunately, this initiative was dropped the very next year. Along with the Joint Commission, the FDA, which has jurisdiction over medical appliances, is still struggling with this complex challenge.
More effective staff and patient education, assuring proper settings for every patient, coordination of multiple alarms and making monitors more user friendly are among the key strategies being adopted.
Possibly the most frequently encountered alarms are those that have been incorporated into our vehicles. As electronic sensors have become cheaper and more reliable, most autos now feature a variety of sounds, lights and even voices announcing when you are low on gas, the engine is overheating, the battery is not charging, a tire has low pressure, you left the lights on or your keys in the ignition, a door is open or you didn’t fasten your seat belt.
There is also that frequently embarrassing red button on your car key that starts the car’s horn alarm whenever you accidentally press it. I know these are all great safety devices, but they can be a little overwhelming. It took me several minutes the other day to discover that an unlatched trunk was the reason that the dome light wouldn’t go out.
When I was a child, I was captivated by the flashing lights and sirens of emergency vehicles. I think I’ve mentioned how I got to operate a real ambulance siren once when I was in the second grade. I wasn’t exactly an advanced student and during recess one day, I was playing “slot machine” with my milk money and swallowed a nickel. I casually mentioned this to Miss Doyle, my teacher, who was in her first year at the school. She flew into a panic and physically carried me to the principal’s office, where they dispatched an ambulance. The nice driver let me turn on the siren on the way to the emergency room.