What happens when nurses ignore machine alarms and call buttons


A Joint Commission 2017 National Patient Safety Goal requires hospitals to improve staff performance for equipment alarms and other notifications

November 3, 2017

As a Houston, Texas lawyer focusing on medical malpractice matters, I have opportunity to meet with many patients and family members. One of the things that sticks out in my mind from these many encounters is how often people comment that they were unable to get anyone to respond to an equipment alarm or the nurse call button in the hospital.

Any time Painter Law Firm investigates a medical negligence case involving the hospital, we always are interested in reviewing the time and staffing records concerning the nursing staff. The standard of care requires hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers to provide an adequate number of nurses to provide proper care to all patients on the unit.

Unfortunately, this often does not happen. It also explains why so many people complain about being unable to find a nurse when an alarm is going off or a patient is urgently pressing the nurse call button. I have recently handled a number of cases where family members who had a patient in a nursing home went so far as to call 911 for help, because nurses were nowhere to be found.

In 2017, the hospital and facility accrediting organization called the Joint Commission released a Hospital National Patient Safety Goal directly addressing reduction of the harm associated with clinical alarm systems.

As a former hospital administrator, I can tell you that when the Joint Commission announces a new goal, it is a requirement the hospitals take seriously. After all, hospitals want to keep their accreditation and stay in business.

The Joint Commission explained the rationale for Patient Safety Goal 06.01.01 as including, “Clinical alarm systems are intended to alert caregivers to potential patient problems, but if they are not properly managed, they can compromise patient safety.”

While I believe that many alarm signals are ignored because of an adequate staffing, on other times, patient care areas have so many signals buzzing and noises that staff members are desensitized to them.

To help raise the bar when it comes to hospitals managing clinical alarm systems, the Joint Commission mandated for new performance goals.

First, hospital administrators need to establish alarm system safety as a hospital priority. This will, of course, require hospitals to form new policies and procedures and then train nursing staff on how to manage hospital alarms.

Second, hospitals are required to identify the most important alarm signals, based on input from physicians and other healthcare providers, as well as the potential risk to patients if the alarm signal is not attended to or if it malfunctions.

Third, hospitals are required to establish policies and procedures for managing important alarm signals, including what the clinically-appropriate equipment settings should be, as well as when an alarm can be disabled or changed, and who has the authority to do so.

Finally, the fourth requirement is that hospitals educate staff and physicians about the purpose in preparation of clinical equipment alarm systems.

We are here to help

If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured as a result of inattention or medical negligence at a hospital, call the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation about your potential case.


Robert Painter is an attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas, who focuses his law practice on medical malpractice matters. He represents patients and their families in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, pharmacies, and other healthcare providers.

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.


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