Common Alarm Management Techniques

Date: July 9, 2015

Common alarm management techniques to date have included efforts to drastically decrease the number of nuisance and unnecessary alarms present in hospitals by customizing alarm thresholds to the applicable patients and organizing professional teams to develop correct policies and procedures to deal with alarm organization.

While the former is the ideal option for decreasing the amount of blaring alarms, very few systems exist that are able to capture the sheer amount of data running off of monitors in order to evaluate which alarms are unnecessary. Furthermore, interoperability errors can occur from systems that attempt to capture the data without being capable of integration. Certain simple methods exist to reduce problems relating to monitor performance, such as checking alarm batteries regularly to ensure that no alarms are functioning badly or irregularly, changing parameters on alarms and monitors so that a “one size fits all” issue doesn’t cause alarms to go off for patients who have nothing wrong (customizing alarms for patients ensures that alarms only go off when a patient truly is in need of help and not just when a common alarm threshold set for all patients has been reached, thereby decreasing the number of alarms), changing electrodes daily, and monitoring only those patients with a clear need for it.

National Patient Safety Goals Emphasis on Alarm Management over the years

However, most hospitals have continued to merely change or decrease the amount of alarms present, which only means that they end up dealing with the same concerns later on (akin to only treating the symptoms of the issue instead of the root cause). A greater problem exists, though. While, for some hospitals, such actions may actually reduce their alarm problems, for other medical environments, a more complex solution may be needed. Medical Informatics and some medical device companies are starting to produce the solutions necessary to tackle these challenges head-on, but a need still exists to have alarm management techniques peer-reviewed and validated across other hospitals. As few guidelines and measurements exist to aid health centers in their transition from chattering alarms to actionable and intelligent alarms (for example, as alarm management is still viewed as a relatively new problem, medical environments still struggle with where they ought to be placing their focus, whether it be on reducing the total number of alarms, time spent in alarm flood, average alarms per bed per day,etc), hospitals and other infirmaries must make it a priority to share their results with others so beneficial techniques can become a standard across the health space.

Unlike common vendors advocating for devices that do little to manage alarms, the Medical Informatics product, First Byte, aims to provide a complete alarm management package to dispense aid to hospitals struggling to determine what alarms to tackle first. Through a comprehensive three-step process, the First Byte servers collect 60 days worth of data and then determine which signals to manage first, how many/which alarms can be classified as nuisance alarms, and the best steps to take based on patient population distribution and characteristics through the Baseline Analysis Report.




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