Medical Imaging IT Risks Include Alarm Fatigue & Radiation Exposure

2012-06-27
 

MRI Scan While health technology, like medical imaging solutions, has allowed complex health care organizations to manage massive amounts of specialized imaging applications, it’s ironic that technology can also pose a hazard when allowed to become part of a hospital’s daily background noise or status quo.

Alarm Fatigue Top Technology Hazard

This is what’s happening with the frequent sounding of alarms found in every hospital setting. According to an ECRI Institute Report, “alarm fatigue” is cited as a top technology hazard. Sadly, it’s human nature to tune out or become desensitized to unremitting beeping. Unfortunately, if staff turns the sound down or becomes numb to the overwhelming number of alerts, patient care may suffer due to delayed or inadequate response.

It is one thing to disregard frequent false alarms in a retail setting, but ignoring an alarm in a hospital could mean the potential for nurses to miss important warnings that a patient’s condition may be deteriorating. There’s no way to determine the urgency of the situation if the alarm is turned down. Also, what happens if someone forgets to reactivate the alarm setting?

Radiation Overexposure Patient Health Hazard

While acknowledging alarm fatigue as a potential patient care issue, the ECRI report also points to a potential health hazard for care providers. Overexposure to radiation and CTs continues to make the top 10 list for consideration of both appropriate and inappropriate dose levels. Most health care facilities do not regularly monitor medical imaging processes for radiation doses, according to the report.

The Joint Commission issued an alert to accredited hospitals last year encouraging them to consider “reasonable alternatives” to repeated radiation exposure. With the soaring rates of medical imaging and diagnostic testing (such as a 330% increase for CT scans between 1997 and 2007, according to the Annals of Emergency Medicine), encouraging hospitals to take some action seems less like an alert than something that naturally seems like a good idea.

Improving the Safety Culture

The realities of unnecessary patient exposure to radiation have been established. Oversight and quality control are certainly steps in the right direction, as the ECRI report states. While prioritizing safety risk is important, The Joint Commission recommends improving the safety culture by evaluating whether the tests, doses and technology are safe and appropriate.

In this age of increased diagnostic testing, a sense of urgency toward correcting deficiencies in the system is required.

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