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Improved patient safety by better alarm systems: How to get the device designers off the fence?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Julie Jupp.

PhD Student at the Engineering Design Centre

Abstract: As part of the software system in most of today’s medical devices, alarm systems are omnipresent in the clinical work environment. It is their purpose to inform medical staff about any deviations in the patient status or the treatment process. If working properly, alarm systems will facilitate staff in delivering adequate and timely care for the patients and therefore make an important contribution to patient safety.

Clinical practice however shows a number of shortcomings in the current designs of such systems. Medical professionals as well as patients suffer from high numbers of false alarms, inadequately designed alarm sounds and inconsistent designs between machines. Obviously, such a lack of usability can in turn jeopardise the initially gained increase in patient safety and has already caused a number of serious incidents. Interestingly, most of these problems have been well known for some years and extensively described in numerous papers. Alarm system design has been the focus of a good number of research projects, and as a result, different technical solutions have been proposed to overcome the limitations of today’s designs.

The medical device industry, however, has been surprisingly slow in utilising these solutions for new, improved designs. The speed of evolution seems to be remarkably slow, especially given the strong demand for innovation from the customer side. This talk will discuss some of the technical, organisational and legislative difficulties designers have face in medical device design, particularly in the design of alarm systems. It will show the designer’s opinions on the proposed solutions, and explain why some of them are rather difficult or even impossible to implement. Finally, a number of suggested changes to the current design process will be discussed, aiming to facilitate designers to come up with better, more usable and therefore safer products in the future.

This talk is part of the Engineering Design Centre series.

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