In our last post, we began discussing the problems of alarm fatigue and auditory masking, the difference being that auditory masking makes it extremely difficult if not impossible for health care providers to distinguish different types of alarms, regardless of whether they are experiencing alarm fatigue.
Auditory masking can occur when there are multiple types of alarms which interfere with one another, but it can also occur when one type of alarm with multiple functions cancels out other alarms of the same type. This can occur despite the fact that there are international standards for medical electronic equipment which require manufacturers to design and build different categories of device alarms to different sound specifications.
For health care professionals, being able to clearly distinguish alarms, then, is not only a matter of working against alarm fatigue, but also of ensuring that the various device alarms in use are distinguishable from one another. For many medical facilities, it is impracticable to conduct the testing necessary to determine this. Fortunately, scientists have developed mathematics which could allow manufacturers and hospitals to determine in advance whether auditory masking is able to occur between two devices or a combination of devices. You can read about it here.
Health care professionals can be found at fault for missing an alarm when this causes harm to a patient, but proving negligence isn’t always easy, for the reasons we’ve discussed. Perhaps the new research could make it more possible to ferret out false claims of auditory masking. In any such case, working with an experienced medical malpractice attorney helps ensure a patient has the best chance of building the strongest possible case.