Shhhh…Solving the Problem of Blaring Alarms with Clinical Communication Alerts

An intercom broadcasts a fast, high-pitched alarm for the rapid response team (RRT). Clinicians across the hospital hear the alarm while carrying out their jobs. Many are accustomed–almost numb, really–to the device, pager or other outdated method emitting constant beeping or chiming of RRT alerts for emergent care situations. 

By contrast, in a curtained emergency room on the first floor, the piercing sound reaches a mother sitting vigil by her ailing child’s bedside. She peeks out and watches RRT members spring into action. She wonders what’s wrong as the noisy warning heightens her anxiety and stress. The distressed mother’s only option is to wait, hands clenched, hoping the crisis does not affect her little one. 

As a former registered nurse who now travels to client sites, I have witnessed hundreds of similar scenarios play out in hospitals and health systems across the country. Like the national movement to adopt electronic records, our healthcare system must implement a modernized emergency care notification system. Eliminating loud alarms reduces needless turmoil and fosters healing.

Automated alerts can silence overhead and handheld pagers and other outmoded methods commonly used to mobilize RRTs. As part of a hospital’s clinical communication process supported by smartphones and desktop apps, these alerts narrow response time to accomplish the same goal—improved care to prevent avoidable patient deaths.

RRT alerts reduce the number of steps, protocols and personnel needed to expedite life-saving treatment. The alerts notify the right people at the right time to the right critical episode whether inside or outside the hospital. As an extra safety measure, automatic fail-safe protocols connect to a secondary care team member if the primary member does not respond. 

Hospital leaders facing budget constraints or hesitation to mandate adoption of another new technology must view this investment in light of a response team’s immeasurable benefits to patients and their contribution to the overall decline in hospital mortality and morbidity. Thus, they can confidently create a communication path that rapid response team members will trust to help them perform at a higher level of speed and competency. 

Quieter hospitals promote healing

The potential negative impact of noise in clinical environments has been widely demonstrated and linked to a host of patient risks that slow the healing process, according to Noise in Healthcare Facilities, a conference paper presented to The 22nd International Congress on Sound and Vibration in July 2015. 

As well, since 2006 “quietness of a hospital environment” remains part of the core set of HCAHPS Survey measurable questions administered to discharged patients to measure their perspective of hospital care. Hospitals striving to raise patient satisfaction scores can create a better experience for patients by combining the two initiatives discussed in this article. 

  1. Equip your RRT responders with the right tools to perform life-saving interventions critical to a patient’s survival and recovery, and  
  2. Equip your hospital with the right emergency notification system to promote a quieter healing experience for patients and their families and friends. 

About the Contributor

As a clinical consultant of professional services at PerfectServe, Carolyn Henricks, R.N., BSN, brings 35 years of clinical nursing experience in helping hospital executives and clinical leaders to understand clinical communication challenges. Much of her career has centered on caring for the pediatric population. Henricks has co-authored medical journal articles and has recently completed a research fellowship program focusing on pediatric asthma as a population health initiative. She can be reached at