Alarms and Human Behaviour: Implications for Medical Alarms

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Alarms and Human Behaviour: Implications for Medical Alarms
J. Edworthy, and E. Hellier
(Br J Anaesth, 97:12-17, 2006)
School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Devon, United Kingdom.
Alarms have many clinical applications, but they are frequently less than optimal because their design and implementation have not taken the cognitive capacity and processing mechanisms of the user into account. Consequently, alarms are often too loud, irritating, confusing, badly designed, and too numerous. This can lead to their often being turned off and hindering, rather than helping, task performance. Some of the main areas where it is vital to take into account the cognitive system of the user and the more general processes of behavior are reviewed. Five central areas of concern are discussed: the number of alarms and how this might be reduced, false alarm rates and their effect on human responses, the design of alarms and how research into auditory cognition on design is applied, intelligent alarm systems, and proposals for alarm design set forth in a recent worldwide medical standard. Some background is given, and the implications for alarm design and implementation are outlined for each area. It was concluded that there are some indications that alarm design and implementation take into account relevant research data, but there is still some way to go before these findings are fully integrated, and the situation is further improved.
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