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Anaesth Intensive Care. 2009 Jan;37(1):112-6.

Users' opinions on intensive care unit alarms--a survey of German intensive care units.

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Department of Internal Medicine I, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany.


Monitoring of physiologic parameters in critically ill patients is associated with an enormous number of alarms, leading to reduced clinical value with high sensitivity but low specificity. To evaluate opinions of intensive care unit (ICU) staff on current monitoring we conducted a survey of German ICUs. Furthermore, the survey aimed to assess requirements and requests for future alarm systems. The survey was conducted between May 2006 and June 2007 on a randomised sample of German ICUs. Questionnaires with 24 partly closed-ended partly open-ended questions were posted. Of 915 letters, 274 (30%) from 185 contacted ICUs were returned and evaluated. One hundred and sixty physicians, the majority (52%) working in a department of anaesthesiology, and 114 nurses returned the survey. Most responders (87%) estimated that less than 50% of current alarms result in clinical consequences (52% estimated less than 25%). We suggested trend alarms, smoothing of signals to reduce artefacts, generation of new combined alarms and integrative monitoring of different alarm systems as improvements of current ICU alarm systems, all of which were agreed to by the majority. Free text commentaries focused on the need for reducing alarms caused by artefacts and called for improvement of the monitor-user interfaces. Our survey demonstrates the dissatisfaction of clinical staff with the current alarm systems regarding alarm frequency and specificity in German ICUs, thereby confirming data raised in single institutions. ICU staff's acceptance for new alarm algorithms like signal extraction or detection of trends as a basis for smart monitoring appealed to the majority of users.

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