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To Beep or Not to Beep? Evaluating Modalities for Multimodal ICU Alarms

OFFIS—Institute for IT, Escherweg 2, 26122 Oldenburg, Germany
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Multimodal Technologies Interact. 2019, 3(1), 15;
Received: 25 January 2019 / Revised: 5 March 2019 / Accepted: 6 March 2019 / Published: 9 March 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Multimodal Medical Alarms)
PDF [36483 KB, uploaded 9 March 2019]


Technology plays a prominent role in intensive care units (ICU), with a variety of sensors monitoring both patients and devices. A serious problem exists, however, that can reduce the sensors’ effectiveness. When important values exceed or fall below a certain threshold or sensors lose their signal, up to 350 alarms per patient a day are issued. These frequent alarms are audible in several locations on the ICU, resulting in a massive cognitive load for ICU nurses, as they must evaluate and acknowledge each alarm. “Alarm fatigue” sets in, a desensitization and delayed response time for alarms that can have severe consequences for patients and nurses. To counteract the acoustic load on ICUs, we designed and evaluated personal multimodal alarms for a wearable alarm system (WAS). The result was a lower response time and higher ratings on suitability and feasibility, as well as a lower annoyance level, compared to acoustic alarms. We find that multimodal alarms are a promising new approach to alert ICU nurses, reduce cognitive load, and avoid alarm fatigue. View Full-Text
Keywords: head-mounted display; wearable computing; ICU alarms; multimodal alarms head-mounted display; wearable computing; ICU alarms; multimodal alarms

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

Supplementary materials

  • Externally hosted supplementary file 1
    Doi: 10.1145/3205873.3205886
  • Externally hosted supplementary file 2
    Doi: 10.1145/3240167.3240218

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Cobus, V.; Heuten, W. To Beep or Not to Beep? Evaluating Modalities for Multimodal ICU Alarms. Multimodal Technologies Interact. 2019, 3, 15.

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