For Immediate Release
March 11, 2014
Allison Rafti, +1-703-253-8296

Navy Warfighter Holds ‘Alarms’ Lessons for Healthcare

What can healthcare professionals learn from the military about the effective management of alarms? Quite a bit, apparently.

Safety Innovation SeriesA new paper from the Healthcare Technology Safety Institute (HTSI) explains how hospitals could improve their alarm management strategies by examining the military’s protocols and systems. Specifically, the paper looks at the systems utilized by the Navy to improve warfighter awareness and capabilities.

“The military recognized years ago that while automated notification systems provide constant warnings, they do not necessarily result in the needed recognition by operations personnel,” reads the paper, titled Healthcare Alarm Safety—What We Can Learn from Military Alarm Management Strategies. The paper is the latest in the Safety Innovations series from HTSI, which operates under the AAMI Foundation.

The paper reflects the insight and expertise of Daniel McFarlane, a researcher at Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories.  Establishing standard interfaces for devices in order to facilitate integration and having a method to deliver intelligent information to physicians via smartphones are two proposals for improved alarm management made in the paper.

AAMI approached McFarlane in 2012 based on his work on human attention theory to provide ecommendations for healthcare to improve alarm management.  Lockheed Martin had experience in improving systems integration in healthcare and in military alarm safety.

In the Navy, it was noted that although automated notification systems provided constant warnings, these noises affected personnel, leading to errors. “The solution was found in the use of software that helps maximize human performance, regardless of the type or multitude of alarm interruptions.”

As on a warship, alarm management in the healthcare setting can mean the difference between life and death.  Clinicians complain that there are too many automated alarms or alerts in the modern healthcare environment, and the result is difficulty in figuring out true emergencies or even in hearing some alarms. McFarlane saw a problem with the design of the current alarm signal delivery, which is not focused on helping nurses divide up time across multiple patients. A solution he offers is for hospitals to advise device manufacturers and standards development organizations to help design products that provide information about patients and allow nurses to multitask.

The paper also looks at the challenge of achieving interoperability, as hospitals often have medical devices and technology from multiple vendors. The paper suggests that hospitals buy systems from an integrator. “If enough hospitals adopted this model, the integrator would have sufficient market power to motivate vendors to conform to interface standards.”

HTSI’s Safety Innovations series offers insights into how leading healthcare organizations have tackled technology-related safety issues. HTSI’s goal is to advance patient safety, and its first initiatives have focused on infusion systems, clinical alarms, the reprocessing of reusable medical devices, and the interoperability of healthcare technologies.

To download a free copy of the paper and to read others, visit the Safety Innovations series.

AAMI ( is a nonprofit organization founded in 1967. It is a diverse community of more than 8,000 healthcare technology professionals united by one important mission—supporting the healthcare community in the development, management, and use of safe and effective healthcare technology.