Unlike other areas of the hospital, the ICU hasn’t undergone any major upgrades in the last 50 years, despite the fact that 6 million patients pass through these departments annually, according to an article in STAT News. Alarms that were once a sign of innovation and advancement in patient monitoring now hinder nurses, and can often lead to errors in patient care—as alarm fatigue causes providers to miss or ignore valid alerts.
Overwhelmed with Data and Devices
In the ICU, real-time monitoring of patient performance and status is paramount, arguably more so than any other location in the hospital. ICU floors are filled with monitors that beep, buzz, or chime in rhythm to patients’ vitals, with just as many wires as sounds emanating from them.
What’s most problematic is none of these medical devices talk to each other, resulting in a cacophony of alarms that often mislead providers, leading to alarm fatigue. Not only are these distracting, they often pull nurses and physicians away from other patients or clinical care activities – on average, nurses answer a false alarm every 90 seconds. During one 12-hour shift, those alarms add up to over 400 interruptions – an incredible amount of time spent away from patients who truly need care.
Updating Technology in “Smart ICUs”
There are relatively low-cost solutions available to combat this issue. By automating many of the current manual processes and ensuring these devices communicate with each other and consolidate information for providers, hospitals can achieve a “Smart ICU.”
For example, nurses are expected to check bed angles for patients each shift to make sure their beds are raised, which helps prevent pneumonia. This manual process, if performed at all, takes time out of nurses’ shifts that could be reallocated to other clinical activities. Instead, hospitals can implement a small sensor that monitors the bed angle continuously—which ensures this measurement is actually taken and doesn’t place additional burden on nurses. This type of solution allows providers to refocus on the patient, rather than the plethora of screens and devices surrounding them.
Creating a Quiet Hospital
When describing a hospital, “quiet” is not likely a word that first comes to mind. From installing new ICU technologies and incorporating wearable devices to building noise-canceling acoustics during construction, hospitals are trying to make changes that benefit both patients and providers. A quieter environment helps providers focus on their patients, and makes vital alarms stand out. These updates not only heighten patient safety, but also increase patient satisfaction, which plays an increasingly powerful role in hospital reimbursement. It also improves the quality of sleep for patients, which greatly improves the healing process.
Whether motivated by improving patient safety, enabling nurses to provide better care, or boosting HCAHPS scores and patient satisfaction, it’s clear the consideration of overall noise levels in hospitals will play a large role in designing and updating ICUs. For device-makers, this represents an interesting challenge to streamline alerts and integrate with other tools, reducing the amount of interruptions in the hospital for both patients and providers.