Auditory icon alarms are more accurately and quickly identified than current standard melodic alarms in a simulated clinical setting

Richard McNeer, Danielle Bodzin Horn, Christopher Bennett, Judy Reed Edworthy, Roman Dudaryk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Scopus citations


Background: Current standard audible medical alarms are difficult to learn and distinguish from one another. Auditory icons represent a new type of alarm that has been shown to be easier to learn and identify in laboratory settings by lay subjects. In this study, we test the hypothesis that icon alarms are easier to learn and identify than standard alarms by anesthesia providers in a simulated clinical setting. Methods: Twenty anesthesia providers were assigned to standard or icon groups. Experiments were conducted in a simulated intensive care unit. After a brief group-specific alarm orientation, subjects identified patient-associated alarm sounds during the simulation and logged responses via a tablet computer. Each subject participated in the simulation twice and was exposed to 32 alarm annunciations. Primary outcome measures were response accuracy and response times. Secondary outcomes included assessments of perceived fatigue and task load. Results: Overall accuracy rate in the standard alarm group was 43% (mean) and in the icon group was 88% (mean). Subjects in the icon group were 26.1 (odds ratio [98.75% CI, 8.4 to 81.5; P < 0.001]) times more likely to correctly identify an alarm. Response times in the icon group were shorter than in the standard alarm group (12 vs. 15 s, difference 3 s [98.75% CI,1 to 5; P < 0.001]). Conclusions: Under our simulated conditions, anesthesia providers more correctly and quickly identified icon alarms than standard alarms. Subjects were more likely to perceive higher fatigue and task load when using current standard alarms than icon alarms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-66
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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