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Fewer but better auditory alarms will improve patient safety
  1. J Edworthy,
  2. E Hellier
  1. School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Devon, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor J Edworthy
 School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, UK;


Auditory warnings and alarms are used throughout the medical environment but often fall short of ideal. In some instances they can be a hindrance rather than a help to medical practice. The main reasons why alarms are less than ideal are: (1) they are used too often and people’s hearing as the primary warning sense is overused; (2) false alarm rates are often exceedingly high because trigger points are inappropriately set; and (3) their design is often poor. However, enough is now known about auditory warning design and implementation to overcome many of the traditional problems associated with them. A new draft international standard incorporates many of these measures, and increasing pressure from safety organisations such as the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organisations in the USA and the National Patient Safety in the UK can help to improve the way that auditory warnings are used in medical care by implementing what is known from research into practice.

  • auditory warnings
  • alarms
  • patient safety

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