Nurses' response to frequency and types of electrocardiography alarms in a non-critical care setting: a descriptive study

Int J Nurs Stud. 2014 Feb;51(2):190-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2013.05.014. Epub 2013 Jun 28.


Background: An important role of the registered nurse is to identify patient deterioration by monitoring the patient condition and vital signs. Increasingly, this is supplemented with continuous electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring. Continuous monitoring is inefficient in identifying deterioration because of the high number of false and nuisance alarms. Lack of strong evidence or formal guidelines for the care of patients receiving ECG monitoring has led clinicians to rely too heavily on this technology without consideration of its limitations. The nursing workload associated with alarm management remains unexamined.

Objective: To describe nurses' routine practices related to continuous ECG monitoring, frequency and types of alarms, their associated nursing interventions, and the impact on the patient's plan of care.

Methods: Design. Prospective, descriptive, observational study. Setting and participants. Between January 2011 and March 2011 we observed nine Registered Nurses providing care for patients receiving continuous ECG monitoring in non-critical care areas. The PI and two research assistants observed each nurse for two 3-h observation periods and recorded data on a researcher designed observation tool. At the end of each observation period, the observers printed the alarm events as recorded by the central monitoring computer.

Results: Nurses responded to 46.8% of all alarms. During the observation period, there were no dysrhythmia adverse events. One patient had a change in condition requiring transfer to a higher level of care. A range of nursing interventions occurred in response to alarms.

Conclusion: Nurses routine practices related to monitoring continue to reveal gaps in practice related to alarm management. Observations of practice also revealed the difficulties and complexities of managing alarm systems and the range of nursing interventions associated with managing alarms.

Keywords: Acute care; Clinical alarms; Electrocardiography; Observation; Patient safety; Physiologic monitoring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Alarms*
  • Electrocardiography / methods*
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Nursing Process*
  • Prospective Studies