Background: Recent reports by The Joint Commission as well as the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation have indicated that medical audible alarm effectiveness needs to be improved. Several recent studies have explored various approaches to improving the audible alarms, motivating the authors to develop real-time software capable of comparing such alarms. We sought to devise software that would allow for the development of a variety of audible alarm designs that could also integrate into existing operating room equipment configurations. The software is meant to be used as a tool for alarm researchers to quickly evaluate novel alarm designs.
Methods: A software tool was developed for the purpose of creating and annunciating audible alarms. The alarms consisted of annunciators that were mapped to vital sign data received from a patient monitor. An object-oriented approach to software design was used to create a tool that is flexible and modular at run-time, can annunciate wave-files from disk, and can be programmed with MATLAB by the user to create custom alarm algorithms. The software was tested in a simulated operating room to measure technical performance and to validate the time-to-annunciation against existing equipment alarms.
Results: The software tool showed efficacy in a simulated operating room environment by providing alarm annunciation in response to physiologic and ventilator signals generated by a human patient simulator, on average 6.2 seconds faster than existing equipment alarms. Performance analysis showed that the software was capable of supporting up to 15 audible alarms on a mid-grade laptop computer before audio dropouts occurred.
Conclusions: These results suggest that this software tool provides a foundation for rapidly staging multiple audible alarm sets from the laboratory to a simulation environment for the purpose of evaluating novel alarm designs, thus producing valuable findings for medical audible alarm standardization.