Alarm Fatigue in the Perception of Medical Soundscapes

Invited paper

Michael Sonne E. Kristensen

Plymouth University

Tuesday 2 june, 2015, 09:00 - 09:20

Auditorium 2 (592)

Medical alarms are typically associated with a wide range of problems, many of which are connected to the design of the audible sounds themselves. In general, research on alarm sound tends to be occupied with the link between acoustic features and the events being represented. The resulting integrated soundscape experienced by medical personnel is largely ignored as a consequential by-product of this design process. Alarm fatigue - the desensitisation to alarm sounds - is arguably caused by the traditional way of approaching alarm design. Nevertheless, despite years of anecdotal comments on the phenomenon, there is scant research on the fundamental causes of the problem. Most approaches to date have been pragmatic, based on the premise that a reduction in the number of alarms is the “best medicine”. However, this proposed solution is problematic for several reasons to be addressed. Our study explores the potential benefits of re-thinking the alarm design process, making the subjective soundscape of the user and the problems of perceptual organisation that they face the starting point of the investigation and the main object to be designed. The exploratory study provides an integrated understanding of alarm fatigue in healthcare environments from a first person perspective. The implications of recent findings of individual differences in perceptual organisation, which can be related to aspects of cognitive style, are considered within this framework.

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