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Medical device alarms: new algorithm helps sort out issue of auditory masking

In health care, there are a variety of things that can go wrong, both when health care providers act negligently and even when they are doing their job according to accepted standards and procedures. Some of the mistakes made by health care providers can be attributed to improper use of electronic records and other technology used in health care.

An example of this type of thing is mistakes with medical alarms, which are part of a variety of medical devices. The role of medical alarms is critical, particularly in emergency care units and operating rooms, to ensure providers have the ability to appropriately respond to circumstances that arise.

Manufacturers are required to meet certain medical alarm standards for different types of devices, partly to ensure that the alarms for different devices are distinguishable. This ensures that health care professionals know how to discern which devices are performing which functions and to make judgments about how to respond when different alarms are sounding.

The problem with medical device alarms is that, although different alarms are required to meet different standards in terms of sound properties, even different types of alarms can be indistinguishable to providers. This is known as auditory masking, and according to studies, it can even occur between devices of the same type when the device is set for different levels of “criticality.” This makes it difficult for providers to properly do their job.

Fortunately, newresearch also indicates that it is possible for hospitals and providers to determine whether a device will mask within itself and whether different device combinations will result in auditory masking.

We’ll pick up on this discussion in our next post, looking at the issue of medical malpractice and medical device alarm negligence. 

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