Last month, Joel Beckerman, Man Made Music’s founder, wrote about using sound as a solution to solve the alarm fatigue crisis in health care facilities. “Alarm fatigue” can be described as the sheer number of alarms in medical facilities coupled with the lack of sound standardization, creating a desensitization to the alarms among workers. This is a problem that needs to be publicly addressed and urgently solved.

Over the past year, I have become involved in volunteering with hospice patients in long-term care facilities. Among the alarms present in those facilities, I would like to highlight the simple, connective sound between patients and their caregivers: the call bell. Throughout my visits, I have seen the first-hand effects of alarm fatigue on patients and their families.

Alarm Fatigue Breaks Trust

For patients in long-term care facilities, their primary caretakers are the staff. Patients’ families make the decision to entrust the staff with providing maximum care and attention to their loved one. In the specific case of the patient I visit, this individual is severely paralyzed; completely at the mercy of his caregivers. When his only family member and I separately began to witness nurses continue to be unresponsive to his call bell, a trust was broken. Anxiety and concern for the patients’ well-being only increased as we knew his call for help may not be heard or answered.

Alarm Fatigue Feeds Patient Isolation

For the paralyzed patient, unresponsive nurses became the new normal. I saw his enthusiasm to engage nurses in conversation wane as he became frustrated with the facility. He stopped asking for things that he needed, such as glass of water or to be repositioned on the bed. His thinking was “well, they won’t come anyway”. As much as I would express my concern to the staff, their answer would always be the same: “The call bell is functional”. The patient, already isolated in terms of his physical ability, asked less and less for help.

Alarm Fatigue Decreases the Quality of End-of-Life Care

Mistrust and increased isolation contribute to a lower standard of life for a patient. End-of-life care should be, at the very least, sensitive to the patient’s basic needs as well as creating a sense of comfort in both the patient and the family to know they are well taken care of.

Though there are many factors contributing to the quality of end-of-life care, alarm fatigue can decrease the quality of any patient’s life. Without a dependable sound to grab the attention of caretakers, patients, like the individual I visit, will continue to suffer.

How do we solve this? We can start by creating a universal call bell sound that is transient and recognizable. As Joel envisioned in his article, it’s not just about removing sounds or silencing them; it is creating a standardized sonic vocabulary. A singular tone that registers as call in need of a response.


Grace Thistle is EA to Joel Beckerman and Allison Meiresonne at Man Made Music.