Irrelevant Alarms: Incidence, Effects, and Reduction Methods

August 1, 2013 | Evaluations & Guidance


An article in the March 2013 issue of Critical Careexamines rates of false alarms within ORs and ICUs, as described in published studies; the article also discusses the effects of alarm problems on patients and clinicians and technological approaches for reducing false-alarm rates. (The authors note that false alarms are conventionally defined as alarms without clinical or therapeutic consequence. However, they also suggest more precise terminology, categorizing alarms as either technically falseor technically correct; in addition, they note that technically correct alarms can be further classified as either clinically relevantor clinically not relevant. In an ideal situation, only alarms that are technically correct and clinically relevant would be brought to clinicians’ attention.)

In two studies in pediatric ICUs, 92% and 94% of alarms were clinically irrelevant, as were 83% of alarms in an ICU examined in a third study. Within the surgical setting, one study found that of 6,386 alarms (during a 124-hour period) that were classified as serious and life threatening, only 1,735 (27%)...

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