(HealthDay News) – Monitoring devices among intensive care patients set off 2.5 million alarms in one month at a U.S. hospital, a new study of “alarm fatigue” reveals. The research was published online Oct. 22 in PLOS ONE.

Alarm fatigue occurs when hospital staff become desensitized to the constant beeps and bleeps of alarms, and either ignore them or turn them off. The problem has been identified as a major issue by The Joint Commission, which accredits U.S. hospitals.

The researchers analyzed data from 461 adults treated in five intensive care units at the UCSF Medical Center over 31 days and found that more than 2.5 million alarms were sounded by the patients’ monitoring equipment. That included more than 1.1 million alarms about heart rhythm problems, of which 88.8% were false alarms caused by computer algorithm errors.

“Nurses and patients are barraged by a staggering number of monitor alarms that could be resolved by improved computer algorithms,” senior author Barbara Drew, RN, PhD, a professor in physiological nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a university news release. “Our results shed light on the high prevalence of alarms that are mostly false and provide insights into the causes of so many false alarms, along with suggestions for device improvement.”

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