Alert Fatigue

Have you heard of “alert fatigue“? This is the phrase used to describe the de-sensitization to safety alerts that healthcare providers experience when using healthcare technologies. This de-sensitization occurs because of the large number of, usually inconsequential, safety alerts triggered by each piece of technology. These alerts may range from a visual drug interaction alert that flags when a provider is prescribing a new medication through the electronic health record, to an auditory alert on an IV infusion pump. A provider may get hundreds of these alerts every day. Eventually and unintentionally, they start to tune them out.

One way non-healthcare providers can think about alert fatigue is to imagine the dashboard symbols on their vehicle. These symbols and alerts, which are displayed in a variety of different shapes, colors, and sounds, are designed to trigger when there could be a problem or safety issue with your vehicle. They are very noticeable at first, but it doesn’t take long to become desensitized to them and think, “I’ll take care of it at my next oil change or service appointment.”

The problem with alert fatigue, and the subsequent ignoring or overriding of these safety alerts, is that we are no longer adhering to these well-intentioned safety alerts that could help keep our patients from harm.

Systems in use today will benefit greatly by only triggering the safety alerts for patients that we are fairly certain the problem will occur in. Fortunately, alert fatigue is a problem of tremendous interest and many interested parties, including Genelex, are working on solutions.

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