This prospective study was performed to determine whether anesthesia clinicians (i.e., both anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists) can identify operating room alarms by their distinctive sounds and to identify factors related to alarm recognition accuracy. Nineteen alarms from 15 commonly used devices were recorded. These sounds were played, in a quiet room, to 44 anesthesia clinicians. The clinicians were asked to choose from a list the device that produced the alarm. After this recognition test, the clinicians rated the importance of each alarm and the frequency with which they heard it in the clinical situation. Clinicians correctly identified the alarm source 34% of the time. The recognition rate was higher for alarms rated as heard more frequently; however, alarms that were rated as more important were less likely to be correctly identified. Complexity of the sound did not influence accuracy of recognition. Most errors were attributed to similarities in sound or function, or both, among alarms. We conclude that anesthetists cannot reliably identify current operating room alarms by their distinctive sounds.
Address correspondence to Dr. Loeb, Department of Anesthesiology, University of California—Davis, Medical Center, Sacramento, CA 95817.
© 1992 International Anesthesia Research Society