Learnability and discriminability of melodic medical equipment alarms

Anaesthesia. 2006 Feb;61(2):142-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2044.2005.04502.x.


Melodic alarms proposed in the IEC 60601-1-8 standard for medical electrical equipment were tested for learnability and discriminability. Thirty-three non-anaesthetist participants learned the alarms over two sessions of practice, with or without mnemonics suggested in the standard. Fewer than 30% of participants could identify the alarms with 100% accuracy at the end of practice. Confusions persisted between pairs of alarms, especially if mnemonics were used during learning (p = 0.011). Participants responded faster (p < 0.00001) and more accurately (p = 0.002) to medium priority alarms than to high priority alarms, even though they rated the high priority alarms as sounding more urgent (p < 0.00001). Participants with at least 1 year of formal musical training identified the alarms more accurately (p = 0.0002) than musically untrained participants, and found the task easier overall (p < 0.00001). More intensive studies of the IEC 60601-1-8 alarms are needed for their effectiveness to be determined.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Critical Care
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Equipment Failure
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / instrumentation*
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / standards
  • Music*
  • Queensland
  • Reaction Time
  • Safety Management / standards*