Meaningful Alarm Management Metrics Start with Alarm Floods

Alarm Floods


Introduction by Jess Simpson

The most common question we hear from customers is “now that I’ve collected all of this alarm data, where do I begin?” When you’ve collected every patient alarm from bedside monitors for just one day, you can expect to have anywhere from 5,000 – 70,000 data points. There are some pretty straightforward metrics that can be deduced from the data such as gross number of alarms, alarms per bed, number of alarms by type, etc. These are helpful metrics for understating the scope of the alarm management situation in a unit but this raw information does not lead you to draw meaningful conclusions about how to improve the alarm conditions.

For the past 18 months, CEO Emma Fauss has been studying Alarm Management practices across industries (such as Oil & Gas, Chemical Manufacturing, and Healthcare) and developed Alarm Management standards for the Healthcare industry. We often quip at our office that Emma has earned her second PhD in Alarm Management with the quantity and quality of research and data work that she has done.

Out of her research, Emma has found that one of the most important metrics for analyzing Alarm Management in Healthcare is the number of alarm floods. Alarm floods are likely a new concept for most members of Alarm Management Steering Committees so Emma breaks down the alarm floods industry definition, application to Healthcare, and importance in improving Alarm Management at your hospital.


The Importance of Measuring Alarm Floods by Emma Fauss

Time spent in an alarm flood condition presents a good metric to assess risk to your patients instead of just considering total alarm counts.

Alarm Flood is a condition where an operator has more alarms than they can physically respond to in an interval of time. For example, if it takes 1 minute for a nurse (the operator) to respond to an alarm, an alarm flood is when the nurse receives more than 10 alarms in 10 minutes. Nurses exit an alarm flood condition when they have the capacity to catch up to the overwhelming amount of alarms, such as when the alarm rate is less than 5 alarms in 10 minutes.

It is during an alarm flood where it is likely for care providers to miss critical alarms. Risk is further increased during alarm flood conditions given:

1) Secondary Alarm Notification solutions often provide little, if any, information on the alarm. (i.e. pagers will only display – “Alarm at bed 01”). This does not help the care provider determine which alarms are critical, especially during an alarm flood.

2) Many institutions have moved to private room configurations which prevent line-of-site to the patient. It takes more time to physically go from room to room and visually check on each patient.

By measuring the alarm foods at your institution and identifying methods for reducing the time your clinical staff spends in alarm foods, you can reduce the risk of missing critical alarms.



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