Distractions in Healthcare: The Ethical and Legal Implications of Alarm Fatigue on Patient Safety

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Distractions are everywhere. They may include cellphones, multiple alarms sounding, overhead paging, monitors beeping, and various interruptions that disrupt your clinical practice.
Give an example of an ethical or legal issue that may arise if a patient has a poor outcome or sentinel event because of a distraction such as alarm fatigue. What does the evidence reveal about alarm fatigue and distractions in healthcare when it comes to patient safety?
Cite your scholarly sources used.


Distractions in healthcare can have serious consequences, leading to a poor outcome or sentinel event for patients. Alarm fatigue is a particular concern, where the high volume of alarms can lead to desensitization and cause healthcare providers to miss critical alarms. If a patient experiences a negative outcome due to alarm fatigue, ethical and legal issues may arise. For instance, if it is found that the healthcare provider did not take appropriate action to address the issue, a legal issue may arise. On the other hand, if healthcare providers knowingly ignore alarm fatigue, putting patients at risk, an ethical issue may arise.

The evidence reveals that alarm fatigue is a significant problem in healthcare. According to a study by Cvach (2012), nurses receive an average of 350 alarms per patient per day, with only 10% of those alarms being clinically significant. This high volume of alarms can lead to a phenomenon known as “alarm fatigue,” where healthcare providers become desensitized to the alarms and miss important alerts. Moreover, Westbrook et al. (2018) found that distractions such as interruptions and distractions during medication administration were associated with a higher risk of medication errors. Therefore, distractions can have a significant impact on patient safety.

It is vital for healthcare providers to recognize the potential risks associated with alarm fatigue and other distractions and take appropriate measures to reduce these risks. One solution may be to implement technology that helps prioritize and filter alarms, reducing the number of unnecessary and non-urgent alarms.

In conclusion, distractions such as alarm fatigue and interruptions can have serious consequences in healthcare, leading to a poor outcome or sentinel event for patients. It is crucial for healthcare providers to take appropriate measures to mitigate these risks and prioritize patient safety.


  • Cvach, M. (2012). Monitor alarm fatigue: an integrative review. Biomedical Instrumentation & Technology, 46(4), 268-277.
  • Westbrook, J. I., Woods, A., Rob, M. I., Dunsmuir, W. T., & Day, R. O. (2018). Association of interruptions with an increased risk and severity of medication administration errors. Archives of Internal Medicine, 178(5), 776-782.

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