Designing and testing medical alarms in support of a global standard

Authors: Edworthy, J., Reid, S., Edworthy (Jnr), J., Hall, S. and McDougall, S.

Conference: Human Factors & Ergonomics Society Conference (Europe Chapter)

Dates: 24-26 October 2016


The audible alarms currently supporting a global standard for electrotechnical medical equipment, IEC 60601-1-8, have been known for some time to be less than optimal and it is generally acknowledged that the alarms require updating.

Through the ISO alarms joint working group and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (a US trust), the authors have designed and tested several sets of audible alarms intended to represent the six specific functions (Oxygen, Ventiation, Temperature, Cardiovascular, Drug administration and Artificial Perfusion) as well as a Power down, General, Medium and Low priority situations. The sets designed demonstrate different principles in order to render the sounds memorable: One is based on word rhythms, one is based on simple metaphor and two are based on the use of auditory icons (real-world sounds intended to represent the functions). The sets were tested for learnability and localizability, and all sets significantly outperformed the current IEC alarms. The auditory icons performed best overall and have been designated as the preferred set for further testing. The paper describes these results and introduces the next phase of the work, which will include testing the alarms in clinical situations and optimising the auditory icons which will be used.

Source: Manual