Healthcare News & Insights

New for 2016: Joint Commission updates alarm guidelines

The Joint Commission has updated the standards hospitals must follow for their patient alarm systems in 2016. And your facility will need to know the details on the new guidelines to stay in compliance and keep patients safe. 

160085472Alarm fatigue is a significant issue for many facilities. It’s often difficult to determine whether a patient is in danger because there are so many alerts from alarms that doctors and nurses quickly become overwhelmed.

In fact, according to data from the Joint Commission, at least 85% of alarm signals don’t require any clinical intervention.

Because the alarms aren’t crucial, clinical staff members start to tune them out. And in some cases, they’ll even change the settings or turn the volume down so they won’t have to hear constant meaningless beeps.

Altering alarms like this can inadvertently put patients in danger. But having too many alarms going off at once also puts patients’ health at risk. Either situation could cause clinicians to miss important alerts.

6 policy keys

To combat the problems that come with alarm fatigue, the Joint Commission has issued new clinical alarm guidelines hospitals must follow to meet its performance standards as part of the National Patient Safety Goals initiative.

The guidelines state that all hospitals must develop specific policies and procedures in 2016 that address the following six areas:

  1. Clinically appropriate settings for alarms
  2. When alarms can be disabled
  3. When parameters can be changed
  4. Who can set and who can change parameters (and who can turn alarms off)
  5. Monitoring and response expectations
  6. Checking individual alarm signals for accurate settings, proper operation and detection accuracy

In addition, hospitals need to identify the most important alarm signals. This can be determined by figuring out the risk to patients if staff members don’t respond to an alarm right away, or if the alarm malfunctions. Input from clinical staff is beneficial here.

Per the Joint Commission, hospitals must also provide training about proper alarm system management to all staff who will be affected by their use. Regular training keeps clinical staff aware of the dangers of ignoring crucial clinical alarms, and arms them with the knowledge to distinguish the insignificant alarms from the important ones.

Getting started

The new alarm guidelines were effective Jan. 1, so if your facility doesn’t have a specific policy in place to address the issues that come with clinical alarms, you need to start brainstorming now.

Not only will this type of policy boost your compliance with Joint Commission standards, it’ll also improve your hospital’s quality of care.

Your first step: Review the alarms on the equipment that comes standard in each hospital room to find out whether they’re functioning correctly at the right settings, and rank how crucial they are to determining the patient’s condition.

That’ll give you some baseline data so you can start getting feedback from clinicians about how well your alarms are working, which is important to creating an alarm policy that addresses your hospital’s specific needs.

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