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Biomed Tech (Berl). 2011 Apr;56(2):73-83. doi: 10.1515/BMT.2011.005. Epub 2011 Mar 3.

Medical device alarms.

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Technische Universität Dortmund, Germany.


The high number of false positive alarms has long been known to be a serious problem in critical care medicine - yet it remains unresolved. At the same time, threats to patient safety due to missing or suppressed alarms are being reported. The purpose of this paper is to present results from a workshop titled "Too many alarms? Too few alarms?" organized by the Section Patient Monitoring and the Workgroup Alarms of the German Association of Biomedical Engineering of the Association for Electrical, Electronic and Information Technologies. The current situation regarding alarms and their problems in intensive care, such as lack of clinical relevance, alarm fatigue, workload increases due to clinically irrelevant alarms, usability problems in alarm systems, problems with manuals and training, and missing alarms due to operator error are outlined, followed by a discussion of solutions and strategies to improve the current situation. Finally, the need for more research and development, focusing on signal quality considerations, networking of medical devices at the bedside, diagnostic alarms and predictive warnings, usability of alarm systems, education of healthcare providers, creation of annotated clinical databases for testing, standardization efforts, and patient monitoring in the regular ward, are called for.

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