Overlapping melodic alarms are almost indiscriminable

Lacherez, Phillippe, Seah, Eunice Limin and Sanderson, Penelope (2007) Overlapping melodic alarms are almost indiscriminable. Human Factors, 49 4: 637-645. doi:10.1518/001872007X215719

Author Lacherez, Phillippe
Seah, Eunice Limin
Sanderson, Penelope
Title Overlapping melodic alarms are almost indiscriminable
Journal name Human Factors   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0018-7208
Publication date 2007-08-01
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1518/001872007X215719
Open Access Status
Volume 49
Issue 4
Start page 637
End page 645
Total pages 9
Place of publication Santa Monica
Publisher Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
Language eng
Subject 1701 Psychology
Abstract Objective: We explore how accurately and quickly nurses can identify melodic medical equipment alarms when no mnemonics are used, when alarms may overlap, and when concurrent tasks are performed. Background: The international standard IEC 60601-1-8 (International Electrotechnical Commission, 2005) has proposed simple melodies to distinguish seven alarm sources. Previous studies with nonmedical participants reveal poor learning of melodic alarms and persistent confusions between some of them. The effects of domain expertise, concurrent tasks, and alarm overlaps are unknown. Method: Fourteen intensive care and general medical unit nurses learned the melodic alarms without mnemonics in two sessions on separate days. In the second half of Day 2 the nurses identified single alarms or pairs of alarms played in sequential, partially overlapping, or nearly completely overlapping configurations. For half the experimental blocks nurses performed a concurrent mental arithmetic task. Results: Nurses' learning was poor and was no better than the learning of nonnurses in a previous study. Nurses showed the previously noted confusions between alarms. Overlapping alarms were exceptionally difficult to identify. The concurrent task affected response time but not accuracy. Conclusion: Because of a failure of auditory stream segregation, the melodic alarms cannot be discriminated when they overlap. Directives to sequence the sounding of alarms in medical electrical equipment must be strictly adhered to, or the alarms must redesigned to support better auditory streaming. Application: Actual or potential uses of this research include the implementation of IEC 60601-1-8 alarms in medical electrical equipment.
Keyword Behavioral Sciences
Psychology, Applied
Q-Index Code C1

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) - Collection
School of Psychology Publications
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 17 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
Scopus Citation Count Cited 31 times in Scopus Article | Citations
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Created: Tue, 19 Feb 2008, 00:27:32 EST