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Combating Alert and Alarm Fatigue in Healthcare

December 2, 2013


Alert and alarm fatigue are becoming prominent issues for healthcare providers as they work with various health information systems. While developed to assist busy physicians with the task of remembering detailed information, constant alerts can begin to feel like a deluge of pop-up windows when they continually appear on their screens, instead of intended helpful reminders.  With alert fatigue, although critical, real-time information is being pushed to providers, physicians can perceive these alerts as unnecessary and often ignore and/or dismiss them.

As electronic information is increasingly implemented into clinical workflows, driven in part by recent government incentives, many of its benefits from systems such as clinical decision support (CDS) are often lost due to perceived alert fatigue. Alarm fatigue is caused similarly, when alarms meant to warn providers of a potentially harmful event or drug interaction pop up, but are not actually relevant to the current situation at the point-of-care. Eventually, providers begin to get desensitized to the alarms and could potentially overlook an important warning.

As more healthcare providers and hospitals integrate health information systems into their practice, managing alert and alarm fatigue is becoming a hot topic in the industry. A recent study conducted by Partners HealthCare found that over fifty percent of alerts from CDS systems in electronic prescribing systems are overridden by physicians, and only fifty percent of those overrides are in line with best medical practices.

The practice of overriding CDS alerts and alarms could have potential negative effects for patients and providers alike, leading to a decrease in the quality of care patients receive and costly penalty payments for providers. The leader of the Partners study, Dr. Karen Nanji, says the solution to alert and alarm fatigue and overrides may lie in streamlining an organization’s CDS system to be as relevant to their practice as possible. In an interview with,  Nanji said, “In the big picture, however, organizations should target their initial efforts toward streamlining the entire alert spectrum, beginning with the alerts that are being ignored with good reason. If your data show that drug-drug or class-class alerts are being appropriately overridden, that’s a good place to focus your efforts to reduce the number of alerts,” she said, noting that the drug-drug overrides Partners reviewed were generally appropriate. Nanji continued, “If we reduce those, providers might feel less bombarded and more inclined to look more closely at the alerts they see.”

Hospital terminal

Customization appears to be the key. If healthcare organizations can customize the type and delivery of alerts and alarms that their CDS system can send, this can help decrease the amount of unnecessary alerts/alarms sent by the system, and help alleviate alert/alarm fatigue and harmful overrides. Alere Analytics Clinical Decision Support platform is very flexible, allowing for customization of ad-hoc reports. Our reports can generate real-time clinical alerts or be used as on-demand queries, allowing providers to save their customized templates for future use. This customization can help reduce the amount of alerts providers receive, and therefore reduce alert and alarm fatigue and incidences of overrides.

If you’d like to learn more about Alere Analytics solutions to help reduce alert and alarm fatigue, visit our website.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 5, 2014 3:21 am

    Reblogged this on Healthcare Transformation.

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