Flashing light used to notify nurses of new laboratory alerts

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A portion of this story is documented in Development of a computerized laboratory alerting system by Bradshaw et al..

In an effort to increase the speed with which nurses on an acute care unit in a large hospital responded to critical clinical laboratory alerts, we tried several items. The first effort consisted of a small "blinking" textual field that notified the user whenever they entered a patient's electronic chart that the patient had a critical laboratory alert. Unfortunately, these alerts often went unacknowledged for several hours. Therefore, in an attempt to increase the alacrity with which these critically important laboratory alerts were acknowledged, we placed a large (i.e., suitable for placement on a dump truck to warn approaching drivers of a hazard in the road), bright yellow, blinking light on top of one computer terminal at the central nursing station. Whenever an alert was generated for any patient on the unit, the light began to BLINK. On the evening of the day the blinking light laboratory alert project was "turned on" I decided to go visit the unit to see how it was working.

Well, when I stepped on the unit, I was surprised to see a large pile of white towels at the central nursing station that were PULSATING. I quickly realized that under this large pile of towels was exactly where our laboratory alert light had been placed. I nonchalantly asked a passing nurse what was going on. She replied, "some idiot in IT laid this light down on our nursing station this morning and it has been blinking non-stop since lunchtime. Can you get them to turn it off?" I replied I would do my best and quickly left the unit. Needless to say, we turned off the light and began brainstorming new solutions to the problem.

Moral of the story: Don't set up large blinking lights at a central nursing station without getting some input from nursing regarding how this might be accepted.

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