Background: As one of the most essential technical components of the intensive care unit (ICU), continuous monitoring of patients' vital parameters has significantly improved patient safety by alerting staff through an alarm when a parameter deviates from the normal range. However, the vast number of alarms regularly overwhelms staff and may induce alarm fatigue, a condition recently exacerbated by COVID-19 and potentially endangering patients.
Objective: This study focused on providing a complete and repeatable analysis of the alarm data of an ICU's patient monitoring system. We aimed to develop do-it-yourself (DIY) instructions for technically versed ICU staff to analyze their monitoring data themselves, which is an essential element for developing efficient and effective alarm optimization strategies.
Methods: This observational study was conducted using alarm log data extracted from the patient monitoring system of a 21-bed surgical ICU in 2019. DIY instructions were iteratively developed in informal interdisciplinary team meetings. The data analysis was grounded in a framework consisting of 5 dimensions, each with specific metrics: alarm load (eg, alarms per bed per day, alarm flood conditions, alarm per device and per criticality), avoidable alarms, (eg, the number of technical alarms), responsiveness and alarm handling (eg alarm duration), sensing (eg, usage of the alarm pause function), and exposure (eg, alarms per room type). Results were visualized using the R package ggplot2 to provide detailed insights into the ICU's alarm situation.
Results: We developed 6 DIY instructions that should be followed iteratively step by step. Alarm load metrics should be (re)defined before alarm log data are collected and analyzed. Intuitive visualizations of the alarm metrics should be created next and presented to staff in order to help identify patterns in the alarm data for designing and implementing effective alarm management interventions. We provide the script we used for the data preparation and an R-Markdown file to create comprehensive alarm reports. The alarm load in the respective ICU was quantified by 152.5 (SD 42.2) alarms per bed per day on average and alarm flood conditions with, on average, 69.55 (SD 31.12) per day that both occurred mostly in the morning shifts. Most alarms were issued by the ventilator, invasive blood pressure device, and electrocardiogram (ie, high and low blood pressure, high respiratory rate, low heart rate). The exposure to alarms per bed per day was higher in single rooms (26%, mean 172.9/137.2 alarms per day per bed).
Conclusions: Analyzing ICU alarm log data provides valuable insights into the current alarm situation. Our results call for alarm management interventions that effectively reduce the number of alarms in order to ensure patient safety and ICU staff's work satisfaction. We hope our DIY instructions encourage others to follow suit in analyzing and publishing their ICU alarm data.