From the Department of Anesthesiology (R.R.M., R.D.) the Department of Anesthesiology, Jackson Memorial Hospital (D.B.H.) Miller School of Medicine, and Music Engineering Technology Program, Frost School of Music (C.L.B.), University of Miami, Miami, Florida the Cognition Institute, Plymouth University, United Kingdom (J.R.E.).
Background: Current standard audible medical alarms are difficult to learn and distinguish from one another. Auditory icons represent a new type of alarm that has been shown to be easier to learn and identify in laboratory settings by lay subjects. In this study, we test the hypothesis that icon alarms are easier to learn and identify than standard alarms by anesthesia providers in a simulated clinical setting.
Methods: Twenty anesthesia providers were assigned to standard or icon groups. Experiments were conducted in a simulated intensive care unit. After a brief group-specific alarm orientation, subjects identified patient-associated alarm sounds during the simulation and logged responses via a tablet computer. Each subject participated in the simulation twice and was exposed to 32 alarm annunciations. Primary outcome measures were response accuracy and response times. Secondary outcomes included assessments of perceived fatigue and task load.
Results: Overall accuracy rate in the standard alarm group was 43% (mean) and in the icon group was 88% (mean). Subjects in the icon group were 26.1 (odds ratio [98.75% CI, 8.4 to 81.5; P < 0.001]) times more likely to correctly identify an alarm. Response times in the icon group were shorter than in the standard alarm group (12 vs. 15 s, difference 3 s [98.75% CI ,1 to 5; P < 0.001]).
Conclusions: Under our simulated conditions, anesthesia providers more correctly and quickly identified icon alarms than standard alarms. Subjects were more likely to perceive higher fatigue and task load when using current standard alarms than icon alarms.
Auditory icon alarms easier to identify than standard alarms in an intensive care setting