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Can J Anaesth. 1991 Nov;38(8):958-64.

Perceived urgency and the anaesthetist: responses to common operating room monitor alarms.

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  • 1Department of Anaesthesia, Dalhousie University.

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  • Can J Anaesth 1992 Jan;39(1):102.


Increasing numbers and varieties of electronic monitors are used in hospital operating rooms. Many of these are equipped with auditory alarms which are loud, insistent, or irritating, and thus are frequently disabled by the anaesthetist. This study was planned to evaluate two components of auditory alarm design which may influence the usefulness of the alarm: the perceived urgency of the auditory signal and its correlation with the urgency of the corresponding clinical situation. We also assessed the ability of practising anaesthetists to identify the monitor or condition responsible for the alarm. Sixty-four anaesthetists attending a national conference assessed ten common operating room alarm sounds for perceived urgency. Results were compared with the urgency of the corresponding clinical situation as determined by 12 senior anaesthetists. Discrepancies between the clinical and perceived urgencies of several monitor alarms were found, and there was no correlation between the two measures. The subjects were also tested for their ability to identify the alarm sounds correctly. The overall correct identification rate was 33%, and only two monitors were correctly identified by more than 50% of the subjects. The results of this study have implications for design and use of auditory alarms in hospitals and suggest the need for further research.

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