Changing the tune of medical alarms can improve patient, clinician experience: study

Hamilton, Ontario-based McMaster University and Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University researchers found changing the tune of hospital medical devices can improve patient and clinician experience.

In the study, published in The British Journal of Anesthesia, researchers compared industry-standard flat beeps with alarm tones that rise and fall gradually like musical notes. Study participants reported the alarm tones were detectable and did not interfere with concurrent speech comprehension. They also found the alarm tones less annoying than flat tones.

"Healthcare settings are a horrible cacophony of sound; we're barraged by auditory alarms that are loud, annoying, not informative, and often false or non-actionable," Joseph Schlesinger, MD, a study co-author and associate professor of anesthesiology at Vanderbilt University, said in a Feb. 15 McMaster University news release. "There's also the sounds of conversations and other equipment. Imagine you're a patient being woken up. You can end up developing sleep deprivation or ICU delirium, which can lead to long-term cognitive impairment."

According to data released by the FDA, issues with hospital alarms have contributed to more than 500 deaths. Effective alarms alert staff members faster than speech or visual warnings and allow their eyes to focus on other tasks, according to the release. 

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