Background and objectives: Alarm fatigue is exacerbated by frequent, nonactionable physiologic monitor alarms. Overutilization of pulse oximetry (SpO2) compounds this alarm burden. Narrow default alarm limits and overutilization of continuous (CSpO2) rather than intermittent monitoring contribute to nonactionable alarms. There were 1.12 million SpO2 alarms on included units during the baseline period, of which 41.0% were for SpO2 ≥ 88%. We aimed to decrease SpO2 alarms per patient day by 20% within 12 months.
Methods: This quality improvement study included patients admitted January 2019 to June 2022. Intensive care and cardiology units were excluded. Interventions included (1) changing default alarm SpO2 limits on monitors from <90% to <88%, (2) changing SpO2 order default from continuous to intermittent, and (3) adding indication requirements for CSpO2. Outcome measures were total SpO2 alarms and alarms for SpO2 ≥ 88% per patient day. Balancing measures were high acuity transfers and code blues without CSpO2 ordered. Control charts were used for each.
Results: Our study included 120 408 patient days with 2.98 million SpO2 alarms. Total SpO2 alarms and alarms for SpO2 ≥ 88% per patient day decreased by 5.48 (30.57 to 25.09; 17.9%) and 4.48 (12.50 to 8.02; 35.8%), respectively. Special cause improvement was associated with changing default monitor alarm parameters. Balancing measures remained stable.
Conclusions: SpO2 monitors alarm frequently at our children's hospital. Widening default alarm limits was associated with decreased SpO2 alarms, particularly nonactionable alarms (≥88%). This high-reliability intervention may be applied, when appropriate, to other monitor alarm parameters to further mitigate alarm burden.
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