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Local hospital leads nation in new tech targeting 'alarm fatigue'

by: Elizabeth Hopkins Updated:

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BOSTON - A local hospital has become the first in the country to install a wireless monitoring system so subtle, patients don't even notice it.

Hospital staff say it gives them an extra set of eyes and patients say it gives them more freedom.

The quiet, round-the-clock system fights a dangerous and potentially fatal trend of something called "alarm fatigue."

Irene Wright, 87, is always on the move.

“I like to do swimming…and I like to do water aerobics, and I like to do the meditation, and I like to do bicycling,” Wright told FOX25.

She says it's frustrating that she's been temporarily sidelined by a slip-and-fall.

Wright is being cared for at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and there's something different going on here.

“In other hospitals, they had things behind you that went 'bink, blink' and ‘noisy, noisy.’  But now there's nothing. It's so quiet, it's wonderful,” she said.

What she has noticed -- or not noticed -- is a program called EarlySense. This hospital is the first in the country to install it. It monitors patients' heart rate and breathing, undetected. 

"The sensor is about the size of a legal pad and its placed underneath the mattress of our patients,” explained Dr. Perry An, at Newton-Wellesley.

“Which I didn't even know about,” said Wright. “I had no clue!”

Dr. An says traditional systems can fire off false alarms or can slip off, triggering another alarm.

“You can imagine that when you have a lot of different alerts and alarms going off, if the vast majority of them are clinically not relevant or not actionable, it can lead to ‘alarm fatigue,’” An said.

Alarm fatigue happens when hospital staff hear so many alerts, they begin to tune them out. It's a dangerous trend. 

“‘Alarm fatigue’ is something that's happening everywhere,” staff nurse Christina Squeri told FOX25. “With this system, the alarms don't sound often. but when they do, you're really on task with it.”

There are other benefits as well. Nurses can be alerted when a patient needs to be turned, or if they leave their bed.  And patients can sleep more soundly and move more freely, speeding recovery.

And to Wright, the atmosphere just seems more peaceful.

“It's not nerve-wracking, which is really very good for the soul,” she said.

About 40 more hospitals in the country have now installed the system.

EarlySense has had such positive feedback and results, they expect to see more hospitals incorporate the system.