Reduce alarm fatigue to prevent burnout in nursing

Too many nurses know the feeling: constant exhaustion, emotional withdrawal, and disillusionment towards the job you once loved. Nurses don’t go into healthcare because it’s easy (long shifts, demanding workloads and close proximity to illness and death are all part of the job). However, at a certain point, your passion for helping others can feel overpowered by the weight of burnout. 

A recent survey from the American Nurses Foundation and the American Nurse Association found high nurse burnout rates: 60% of acute care nurses are experiencing burnout, and 75% report feeling stressed, frustrated, and exhausted.1   

Burnout can affect professionals in any industry and is the result of chronic workplace stress that goes unmanaged. Recently labeled as an official medical diagnosis by the World Health Organization, burnout symptoms include increased mental distance, cynicism related to one’s job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.2 When a healthcare provider has reached the point of burnout, the effects can be felt far across the care continuum. Tired and overworked nurses are more likely to make mistakes at work and risk patient safety.3 

When burnout gets bad enough, it can cause nurses to leave the workforce entirely. With fewer nurses on the floor at any given time, staff nurses are working longer hours and must take on larger patient loads. High nurse-to-patient ratios, greater than 1:4, are associated with an increase in hospital mortality, and an increased likelihood that patients will acquire infections or become injured. To address the gap, healthcare organizations may need to bring on agency nurses, which increases costs due to higher wages.  

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Understanding the Causes of Nurse Burnout 

Healthcare leaders looking to curb nurse burnout within their organizations must address the underlying causes that negatively impact job satisfaction and nurses’ mental health, outlined below.  

1. Nursing shortages and long work hours  

Over one-third of the nursing workforce is expected to retire in the next 10 to 15 years, at a rate that nursing schools are not projected to keep up with.4 Turnover rates among nursing professionals are also high, ranging between 8.8% to 37% depending on geographic location and nursing specialty.5 The combination of these two metrics has raised alarms across the country for an impending nursing labor shortage. With more nursing jobs open than any other industry in the US last year, hospitals and clinics across the country are feeling the strain and have put in place mandatory overtime policies in an effort to shore up staffing shortages.6 While this practice serves as a temporary solution, it can have serious consequences. Nurses who regularly work 12-hour shifts are at greater risk for burnout, distress, severe fatigue, and poor work-life integration.7  

2. Heavy workloads  

Due to an increased demand for nurses, high patient ratios, and expectations to provide higher levels of care, today’s nurses are experiencing heavier workloads than ever before.8 Nurses don’t always have sufficient time to perform all the tasks they need to, which can lead to frustration in their role and lower the quality of care they provide.  

3. Inefficient workflows  

Inefficient communication processes between nurses and care teams contribute to nurse stress by making collaboration difficult, negatively impacting job satisfaction, and risking patient safety. For instance, nurses often have to physically track down colleagues or play rounds of phone tag in order to coordinate care. Wasting time in this manner reduces the amount of time nurses can spend caring for patients. The more time nurses can focus on their patients, the better the patient’s experience and outcome will be, and the more satisfied nurses will feel in their role.9 

4. Emotional exhaustion 

While working closely with sick, injured, and dying patients is a known factor when nurses choose the profession, the emotional labor of their work still takes a toll. Nurses work closely with patients, sometimes throughout the care continuum, so it is no surprise that they report higher rates of acute stress, depression, and anxiety than their physician counterparts.10  

5. Excessive cognitive shifting  

Nurses are interrupted by many alarms, alerts, and notifications from multiple devices throughout their workday and are often the first to be impacted by inefficient alarm management workflows. Proper alarm management aims to limit these interruptions.  

Oftentimes, patient monitor alarms are sent out to all caregivers instead of only those assigned to the patient. This deluge of alarms requires nurses to cognitively shift their attention hundreds of times a day, even if the alarm is irrelevant or non-actionable. When nurses repeatedly have to pull their attention away from the task at hand, it wastes nurses’ time – researchers have found that it can take between 10 and 20 minutes to get back on track after an interruption.11 

6. Cognitive overload 

Cognitive overload in nursing happens when a nurse’s attention becomes so overwhelmed that they cannot maintain the situational awareness they need to respond appropriately to their patients. Cognitive overload affects nurses’ mental, physical, and emotional well-being and can lead to mistakes and oversights that hurt patient care.12 

7. Alarm Fatigue  

Similar to cognitive overload, alarm fatigue in nursing is the phenomenon that occurs when clinicians are exposed to multiple alarms of mixed significance and become desensitized to safety alarms due to the sheer number of alarm signals and notifications they receive. Nurses experiencing alarm fatigue have been found to be at greater risk for burnout and compassion fatigue (a reduced ability to nurture and empathize with patients).13 

A study on alarm management found that the vast majority of clinical alarms, between 72-99%, are false alarms.14 In fact, most of the alarms nurses receive are non-actionable (only 5-13% of alarms require timely intervention), and many may not even be relevant to a nurse’s specific job function.15 

How to reduce nurse burnout: streamline nurse workflows with smarter alarm management 

Hospitals need alarm management technology that can filter out irrelevant alerts, route the relevant alerts to the appropriate caregivers, and enrich them with helpful, contextual information. By reducing alarm clutter and distributing the responsibility for following up on alerts, nurses can work with fewer interruptions and focus on patient care. 

The healthcare ecosystem simply could not run without the skilled care nurses provide. As the front lines of our hospitals, they deserve tools that improve their work environment and support them in delivering the best care possible.  

Simplifying your clinical workflows with a modern alarm management system reduces the cognitive burden on caregivers, meaning nurses can spend less time responding to irrelevant alarms and more time caring for patients. TigerConnect integrates with clinical systems (like nurse calls, physiological monitors, smart beds, and your EHR) to intelligently route alarms to the appropriate caregiver’s mobile device. TigerConnect mitigates alarm fatigue b quieting unnecessary interruptions to deliver actionable notifications from the patient ecosystem directly to caregivers. 

To learn all the strategies to prevent burnout and reduce alarm fatigue in nursing, get the eBook: Nurses’ Ultimate Guide to Alarm Fatigue Interventions: Smarter Workflows Prevent Nurse Burnout.  

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Prevent Nurse Burnout with Smarter Clinical Workflows


  3. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.32748  
  10. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.32748   

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