Does Your Healthcare Tech Product Fuel the "Alarm Fatigue Syndrome"?

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Data is good. More data is better. At least that’s what some people think. Although there is some truth to that position, at some point, too much information leads to overload. There is a difference between the volume and the value of data, and more data doesn’t automatically lead to better patient or operational outcomes.   

In an interview published in the April 30, 2018 issue of Modern Healthcare, Allscripts CEO Paul Black discussed data that is not properly managed, harmonized and de-duplicated. His comments referred to assimilating Big Data feeds that incorporate information from several sources, but his remarks apply to all of healthcare data. “It’s like reading the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and C-Span all at once,” he said.  Without an interpretive framework, data is just noise.

Anyone who has spent any time in either an inpatient or Emergency Department setting has heard numerous alarms happily chirping in the background and being ignored by virtually everyone. Many electronic gizmos that are part of patient care these days sport alarms to alert caregivers when some kind of threshold is exceeded. And these thresholds are exceeded regularly. By many devices. And they are regularly ignored. If everything becomes urgent, nothing is urgent.

When medication management software for physicians first hit the market, there were so many low threshold alerts about dosing and potential interactions that many physicians learned to click right through them and essentially ignore most of them, defeating the alerts’ purposes. In some cases, they missed truly important warnings resulting in patient harm.

Patients may think it’s wonderful that their primary care physician can access the steady stream of heartrate and other biometric data from their fitness monitors, but no physician has the time to sort through tons of undifferentiated data. Even getting a condensed daily feed of summary data can be overwhelming unless there is an analytical overlay to alert the clinician when action is required. The best apps provide clear alert systems (e.g., color-coding patients as green, yellow or red) so someone from the physician’s staff can immediately identify the patients that require immediate attention.


  • If you are vendor offering a product that greatly increases data flow to physicians or hospitals, be sure to solicit input from relevant clinicians concerning the types of information that are truly helpful. 

  • You must include an analytical framework that provides immediately identifiable intervention thresholds. 

  • Incorporate the ability to conveniently modify alert thresholds so clinicians can customize notifications to match their preferences.

  • Develop mechanisms that guide clinicians toward suitable interventions so they can easily step in. Remember that beyond being valid, data must also be actionable.

  • As you are presenting your product, make sure you communicate that you understand the difference between volume of data and value of data that has been curated.