Objective: To identify areas requiring the most urgent improvement in the intensive care unit (ICU); and to accurately determine the positive predictive value of routine critical care patient monitoring alarms, as well as the common causes for false-positive alarms.
Design: Prospective, observational study.
Setting: A multidisciplinary ICU in a university-affiliated children's hospital (excluding children with primary heart disease).
Interventions: The occurrence rate, cause, and appropriateness of all alarms from tracked monitors were recorded by a trained observer and validated by the bedside nurse over a 10-wk period for a single bedspace at a time.
Measurements and main results: After 298 monitored hrs, 86% of a total 2,942 alarms were found to be false-positive alarms, while an additional 6% were classified as clinically irrelevant true alarms. Only 8% of all alarms tracked during the study period were determined to be true alarms with clinical significance. Alarms were also classified according to whether they were clearly associated with a "patient intervention" (18%), were clearly not associated with a patient intervention (74%), or had unclear association to interventions (8%). While 11% of "nonpatient intervention" alarms were clinically significant true alarms, only 2% of "patient intervention" alarms were so. Positive predictive values for the various devices ranged from < 1% for the pulse oximeter's heart rate signal to 74% for the arterial catheter's mean systemic blood pressure signal during periods free from patient interventions. The pulse oximeter caused false-positive alarms most frequently, with common reasons being bad data format/bad connection and poor contact.
Conclusion: Efforts to develop intelligent monitoring systems have more potential to deliver significantly improved patient care by initially targeting especially weak areas in ICU monitoring, such as pulse oximetry reliability.