Testing auditory alarm effectiveness with three different alarm sets

Thompson, Chris, Sanderson, Penelope, Watson, Marcus, Thompson, Matthew, Muthukrishna, Michael and Murphy, Sean (2010). Testing auditory alarm effectiveness with three different alarm sets. In: Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists Annual Scientific Meeting 2010, Christchurch, New Zealand, (). 1-5 May 2010.

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Name Description MIMEType Size Downloads
Author Thompson, Chris
Sanderson, Penelope
Watson, Marcus
Thompson, Matthew
Muthukrishna, Michael
Murphy, Sean
Title of paper Testing auditory alarm effectiveness with three different alarm sets
Conference name Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists Annual Scientific Meeting 2010
Conference location Christchurch, New Zealand
Conference dates 1-5 May 2010
Convener Ross Kennedy
Place of Publication Melbourne, Australia
Publisher Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists
Publication Year 2010
Sub-type Published abstract
Total pages 1
Language eng
Formatted Abstract/Summary
Introduction. We compared anaesthetists’ ability to learn six alarm sounds, each in medium and high priority forms, from three different alarm sets: (1) alarms from the set proposed in the IEC 60601-1-8 standard1 2 for alarms on medical electrical equipment (IEC), (2) a modification of the IEC set (Modified) with simplified high priority alarms, and (3) a set developed over 20 years ago by psychoacoustician Roy Patterson3 (Patterson).

Methods. Forty-four anaesthetists were randomly assigned to learn either the IEC, Modified, or Patterson alarm sets. At specified points over two learning sessions, anaesthetists identified alarms when (1) played when requested, with no background distractions (self-paced) and (2) played at random intervals, while they performed a distractor task and heard background music (random-distracted).

Results. Learning time, accuracy and response time did not differ significantly across the three alarm sets. Anaesthetists with music training performed much better than those without (ps<0.001). Perceived urgency was greater for high vs. medium priority alarms in all alarm sets and confusions between priority levels were almost nonexistent. By the end of the experiment, the percentage of anesthesiologists identifying alarms with accuracy of 90% or more was 86% for self-paced tests, and 63% for random-distracted tests. In the self-paced tests, anaesthetists without music training identified the Patterson alarms as accurately as those with music training (without=91%, with=90%), but this was not the case for the IEC set (without=74%, with=94%) or the Modified set (without=64%, with=94%) (p<0 05). A similar trend was noted with random-distracted testing. Although response time was slower for high compared to medium priority forms of the IEC alarms (p<0.001), the Modified or Patterson alarms did not support faster response times than IEC alarms.’

Conclusion. The anesthesiologists sampled could learn to identify six different alarm sounds, each in two priority levels. High priority Modified alarm sounds could be annunciated in a shorter period of time than the standard IEC high priority sounds without adversely affecting performance. Compared to musically trained anesthesiologists, those without prior musical training performed worse on IEC-type (melodic) alarms but equally well with Patterson alarm sounds. Overall, Patterson alarms performed as well as or better than standard IEC sounds. Further development of auditory alarm signals should be supported by testing with representative users at key ponts during development.

Acknowledgments. Funded by ANZCA Research Grant 06-050.
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