Ventilators keep some of the most vulnerable patients breathing. This crucial equipment sounds an alarm at the first sign of a problem, and the caretaker should immediately respond to the alarm.
Unfortunately, improper nursing staff training or caretaker negligence can render the alarm useless. An analysis by the Boston Globe shows that, between 2005 and mid-2011, 119 people died due to problems with ventilator alarms and responses to them.
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports says that 800 adverse events concerning ventilator alarms occurred in 2010. This fall, the FDA Issued an alert to the caregivers in nursing facilities, hospitals and homes about ventilator alarms, specifically that they are going unattended and nurses are too dependent on them.
While these analyses take a national view, the issue of caretakers who do not properly respond to ventilator alarms is vital to patients in Ohio hospitals, nursing homes and other care facilities.
Causes of Ventilator-Alarm Errors
The 119 ventilator-alarm-related deaths had various causes, but the vast majority appears to have been spurred by negligence on the part of the caretaker.
- In 27 events, the caregiver failed to respond to the alarm fast enough or did not hear the alarm.
- In 16 events, the alarm was misused or improperly set.
- In 53 events, the caregiver said that he or she did not hear the alarm.
- In four events, the caretaker shut off the alarm.
- Among the other 19 events, in only two did the ventilator malfunction.
Although caretakers can sometimes become immune to the sounds of bells, whistles and alarms, a ventilator alarm is not to be ignored. A patient could die in a matter of minutes if a ventilator alarm is not heeded.
Source: The Boston Globe, “Ventilator errors are linked to 119 deaths,” Liz Kowalczyk, Dec. 11, 2011