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Application of Audio Engineering and Psychoacoustic Principles to Audible Medical Alarms

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Audible medical alarms standards have recently undergone extensive review by regulatory and safety organizations due to reported ineffectiveness of alarms and the role of “alarm fatigue” in contributing to morbidity and mortality among patients. Many of the problems associated with alarm fatigue stem from an improper application of psychoacoustic and audio engineering principles and naive design of auditory streams that lead to poor segregation, confusion among clinicians, and ultimately fatigue. The audio engineer has a clear role in defining solutions to problems arising in hospital units, some of which have previously been addressed in sound production, sound design, and auditory scene analysis. The roles of sonification, psychoacoustics, and sound perception are discussed as they apply to audible medical alarms.

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