Alarming results in latest study

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

I think we finally have a solid answer to the question “What's worse than not having a patient monitor go off?” Maybe it's having a patient monitor go off too often.

In a clear case of being able to learn from a cousin, long-term care providers should take note of results of a baby-monitoring study at a respected pediatric hospital.

Most compelling for nurse managers — at any level of care — is this: Median response time to a patient monitor alarm grew 15% for each hour a nurse had worked on her shift.

That meant average response time was 6.1 minutes in the second hour but 14.1 minutes in the eighth hour. 

The numbers are according to researchers out of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. They observed 551 hours of video of nurses responding to alarms in a baby ward. Their findings appeared in a recent issue of JAMA Pediatrics.

Among the eye-openers: Nurses with less than a year of experience responded quicker, on average, than more experienced peers. Whether this means older nurses get lazy or are simply wiser was not pointed out.

Nurses responded to rooms with previous alarms quicker but rooms known to have family members in them slower.

In a real shocker, there were quicker response times when a nurse had a 1:1 care ratio with a patient. Long-term care nurses and aides, who might have as many as 10 to 12 individuals to care for at a time, are allowed a very big eye roll at this one.

“Frequent false alarms” remain the most important alarm-related issue to address, study authors agreed. No argument here.

Of 11,745 alarm calls noted in the study, only 50 were deemed “actionable.” That's a stunning 0.4% rate — or four-tenths of 1%.

That certainly could account for a bloated median response time of 10.4 minutes.

Study authors don't go too far out on a limb in saying that nurses probably start to expect that most alarms are not important. With just one in every 225 calls being legitimized, one can begin to see why. This leads them to often prioritize other, more-routine tasks as more important, the researchers noted, unless they have previous knowledge of extenuating health dangers.

Clearly, the vendor that can significantly reduce the number of false alarms will endear itself to pediatric, long-term care and other providers.

In an accompanying editorial to the JAMA Pediatrics article, physician authors said they were stunned that the results were so tepid since the study had taken place at a leading hospital.

This led them to wonder just how poor response times and habits might be at facilities in less auspicious settings, where resources are spread even thinner.

It's a sour lemon drop that long-term care operators should suck on for a while as well.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan. Email him at


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.