A critical assessment of monitoring practices, patient deterioration, and alarm fatigue on inpatient wards: a review

Patient Saf Surg. 2014 Jun 27;8:29. doi: 10.1186/1754-9493-8-29. eCollection 2014.


Approximately forty million surgeries take place annually in the United States, many of them requiring overnight or lengthier post operative stays in the over five thousand hospitals that comprise our acute healthcare system. Leading up to this Century, it was common for most hospitalized patients and their families to believe that being surrounded by well-trained nurses and physicians assured their safety. That bubble burst with the Institute of Medicine's 1999 report: To Err Is Human, followed closely by its 2001 report: Crossing the Quality Chasm. This review article discusses unexpected, potentially lethal respiratory complications known for being difficult to detect early, especially in postoperative patients recovering on hospital general care floors (GCF). We have designed our physiologic explanations and simplified cognitive framework to give our front line clinical nurses a thorough, easy-to-recall understanding of just how these events evolve, and how to detect them early when most amenable to treatment. Our review will also discuss currently available practices in general care floor monitoring that can both improve patient safety and significantly reduce monitor associated alarm fatigue.

Keywords: Alarm threshold values; Arousal failure; CO2 narcosis; Central sleep apnea; Continuous pulse oximetry; Dartmouth patient surveillance system; Functional residual capacity; General care floors; Obstructive sleep apnea; Oxygen supplementation; Oxyhemoglobin dissociation curve; Patterns of respiratory dysfunction; Rapidly evolving clinical cascades.

Publication types

  • Review