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Alarm Fatigue in Grownup ICU


ICUs proceed to be challenged by alarm fatigue, which may desensitize workers to ventilator warnings whereas disrupting sufferers and growing dangers of poor outcomes.

By Invoice Pruitt

Grownup ICUs throughout the nation proceed to be challenged by alarm fatigue regardless of years of labor to alleviate this drawback. Frequent alarms may end up in sensory overload together with desensitization to alarms, which may result in delayed (or no) response by the healthcare group, adjustment of alarm thresholds to inappropriate ranges, turning off alarms, issue in evaluating and prioritizing alarms, elevated stress on workers, and disruption of circadian rhythm plus elevated stress for sufferers.1

In analysis, alarms have been categorized into three classes:1

  1. Technically false alarms (the alarm doesn’t correspond to actuality;
  2. Technically appropriate however clinically irrelevant alarms (no want for taking motion); and
  3. Technically appropriate/clinically related alarms that decision for a response.

Research have proven that from 72% to 99% of alarms are both within the first or second class (false or clinically irrelevant).1 A scientific evaluate of analysis on alarms revealed in 2022 checked out 56 articles and described the kinds and frequency of alarms uncovered within the evaluate. A complete of 85% of the alarms  occurred in 4 main areas:1

  1. Coronary heart fee or arrythmias;
  2. Arterial blood strain;
  3. Low SpO2 type pulse oximetry;
  4. Respiration points (too excessive/low, or apnea).

One other examine analyzed the variety of alarms in a single week in a big educational medical heart. a complete of 199 beds in eight completely different models (together with within the combine 4 ICUs and the grownup emergency division), they discovered there was a complete of 74,535 alarms — a median of seven,453 alarms per day.2

Potential Options for Alarm Fatigue

There are various approaches being evaluated to attempt to scale back/get rid of alarm fatigue. The Nationwide Coalition for Alarm Administration Security discovered {that a} minority of sufferers are the trigger for many alarms. By focusing interventions  to forestall alarms in  these explicit sufferers the variety of alarms might be decreased.2 There’s a tendency to set alarms on generalized protocols and affected person populations as an alternative of specializing in the affected person and their particular circumstances. By establishing protocols that depend on the affected person’s present situation to ascertain extra acceptable alarm limits, there generally is a discount of nuisance alarms and elevated in affected person security.3

Researchers recommend that amenities set up coaching and workshops for the ICU workers to extend the understanding of correct arrange of monitoring units (together with probes, pores and skin purposes, placement), adjustment of the thresholds, acceptable methods to cut back nuisance alarms, and set up/evaluate algorithms for alarm administration.1 Monitoring compliance with protocols and algorithms also can enhance the difficulty of alarm fatigue. One examine that regarded on the affect of performing audits to verify alarm settings discovered that audits improved compliance by 84%.3

Addressing how alarm alerts are offered can scale back alarm fatigue. One technique adjusts alarm quantity based mostly on ambient noise – for instance, throughout quiet intervals, the alarm quantity would sound at a decrease quantity. One other technique gives alarms on to the accountable caregiver by way of a wearable gadget place on the higher arm that will use vibration, a flashing mild, and sound delivered by way of bone conduction, as an alternative of broadcasting a normal alarm to the complete unit.1 Altering the auditory immediate from normal beeps, bells, or sounds to particular sounds can assist workers consider and interpret what is going on. For instance, offering a “lub-dub” sample for a cardiovascular problem, an inhalation/exhalation sound for points with air flow, three wine cork pops for issues in oxygenation, and an improper begin of a chilly motor (pull twine) to alert the workers of apparatus failure.3

Sensible alarm packages are being developed to make the most of a mixture of alarms to foretell affected person deterioration and alert the workers of an impending occasion reminiscent of a code blue, an acute hypotensive episode, or different adjustments in monitored variables that when mixed right into a extra total view of the affected person would level to impending occasions.1 Enchancment in know-how has introduced a transfer away from reactive monitoring to extra complete evaluation and use of a mixture of monitored variables. This strategy can present earlier motion from the workers to forestall an antagonistic occasion and forestall alarms from being triggered.3

One other novel strategy in sensible know-how has been within the improvement of sensible rooms that may establish the presence of a well being care supplier, the kind of supplier, a member of the family, or affected person motion. Displays within the room are additionally capable of detect if handwashing has occurred, the time and sort of medicine being administered and supply some type of intervention if an error was about to happen.3

Specializing in Mechanical Air flow

The Emergency Care Analysis Institute listing of the highest 10 well being know-how hazards (from 2017) has ventilator alarm administration listed as third within the listing.4 Ventilator alarms are related to excessive threat points contemplating that affected person disconnection or malfunction of the ventilator may end in everlasting hurt of dying and are thought-about high-priority  alarms because of the essential nature of the assist.3

Ventilator producers have offered varied methods to assist  in alarm administration. Many present an auto-set function that units varied alarms based mostly on operator inputs (ie, intercourse, age, top, weight, mode of air flow, and so on.) or based mostly on details about the affected person’s situation (ie, auto-set of the minute air flow alarm to +30% of the present minute air flow). Many additionally present a suction enter to pick when performing this process that may silence the alarm for a interval and set the FiO2 to 1.00 throughout that interval, then reactivate the alarm and restore the unique setting for FiO2 when the interval has ended.3

Ventilators additionally incorporate a hierarchy of alarms that present extra pressing or intense alarms for extra critical conditions and supply an growing alert (ie, extra frequent auditory prompts, growing quantity, altering colours on the ventilator alarm display screen) as time goes by that urges the workers to reply.

To assist scale back alarm fatigue many respiratory remedy (RT) departments are utilizing protocols to set alarms based mostly on a selected affected person’s situation. For instance, after performing a high quality enchancment venture, Johns Hopkins Hospital’s RT division offered the next tips for employees to make use of in setting ventilator alarms:

  • Excessive inspiratory strain set at 15-20 cmH2O above PIP;
  • Minute quantity set at 4-6 LPM beneath measured minute quantity and 6-8 LPM above;
  • Tidal quantity (excessive and low) set at + 200 mL of measured tidal quantity;
  • Excessive respiratory fee set at 15-20 above measured fee;
  • Apnea set at 20 seconds except ordered by doctor or adjusted and documented by RT attributable to extraordinary circumstance (ie, DNR).


Alarm fatigue is an issue that should be addressed in a number of methods. As described by Walsh and Waugh in an article from 2020 in Respiratory Care concerning efficient methods, “These embrace focused training with reinforcement, standardized alarm insurance policies that respect affected person variations and embrace peer follow-up, and the adoption of assistive know-how.”3 In pursuing the aim of decreasing alarm fatigue, we should take note, “Primum non nocere”, a Latin phrase which means, “First, do no hurt.”


Invoice Pruitt, MBA, RRT, CPFT, FAARC, is a author, lecturer, and advisor. He has over 40 years of expertise in respiratory care and has over 20 years instructing on the College of South Alabama in Cardiorespiratory Care. Now retired from instructing, he continues to offer visitor lectures and write professionally. For extra data, contact [email protected].


  1. Chromik J, Klopfenstein SA, Pfitzner B, Sinno ZC, Arnrich B, Balzer F, Poncette AS. Computational approaches to alleviate alarm fatigue in intensive care medication: A scientific literature evaluate. Frontiers in Digital Well being. 2022 Aug 16;4:843747.
  2. Cvach M, Kitchens M, Smith Ok, Harris P, Flack MN. Customizing alarm limits based mostly on particular wants of sufferers. Biomedical instrumentation & know-how. 2017 Could;51(3):227-34.
  3. Walsh BK, Waugh JB. Alarm methods and surveillance for mechanical air flow. Respiratory care. 2020 Jun 1;65(6):820-31.
  4. Stokes JE, Manzoor SH, Cvach MM. Ventilator alarms: challenges and alternatives for enchancment. Biomedical Instrumentation & Know-how. 2017 Sep;51(5):390-7.
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