Barbara J. Drew, RN, PhD, FAAN, FAHA
David Mortara Distinguished Professor in Physiological Nursing Research, Clinical Professor of Medicine, Cardiology
University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
Department of Physiological Nursing
San Francisco, CA 94143-0610
Medical Research: What is the background for this study?
Dr. Drew: Physiologic monitors used in hospital intensive care units (ICUs) are plagued with alarms that create a cacophony of sounds and visual alerts causing “alarm fatigue.” Alarm fatigue occurs when clinicians are desensitized by numerous alarms, many of which are false or clinically irrelevant. As a result, the cacophony of alarm sounds becomes “background noise” that is perceived as the normal working environment in the ICU. Importantly, alarms may be silenced at the central station without checking the patient or permanently disabled by clinicians who find the constant audible or textual messages bothersome. Disabling alarms creates an unsafe patient environment because a life-threatening event may be missed in this milieu of sensory overload.
To date, there has not been a comprehensive investigation of the frequency, types, and accuracy of physiologic monitor alarms collected in a “real-world” ICU setting. For this reason, nurse and engineer scientists in the ECG Monitoring Research Laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) designed a study to provide complete data on monitor alarms.