Information management is a continual challenge for hospitals, and managing the growing profusion of critical alarms is no small part of that challenge. The traditional method for distributing alarm information makes staff members responsible for analyzing and communicating alarms. While generally effective, this approach requires considerable oversight and is subject to lapses—critical information can sometimes be missed, and errors can sometimes be introduced.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (New York, NY) has developed a networked approach to managing critical alarms that builds on its existing wired/wireless infrastructure. Called the Biomedical Device Information Network, the system connects select diagnostic, monitoring, and treatment devices to the hospital's Ethernet network. All monitoring and alarm information is made available on this network, in addition to being routed through the normal pathways. This allows alarm management to be centralized and automated.
A commercial software application provides alarm processing—it collates, analyzes, and prioritizes alarms for each patient and directs alarm information to the appropriate caregiver. One challenge the hospital is still addressing is being able to consolidate multiple alarms stemming from a single event.
A combination of identification techniques, including bar coding and radio-frequency identification, is used to automatically associate the caregiver with the patient and with the equipment being used on the patient. This information is communicated to the alarm-processing system. When an alarm event occurs, the hospital's existing wireless telephone system alerts the caregiver, usually by means of the caregiver's hands-free communication pendant.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering has successfully tested its system using a mockup of three patient rooms. At press time, it had installed the hardware and software for full-scale implementation and was still performing tests before taking the system live across the entire institution.
This project earned Memorial Sloan-Kettering recognition as a finalist for the 3rd Health Devices Achievement Award, issued by ECRI Institute in 2008 to honor excellence in health technology management. Learn about the other submissions that achieved recognition.