Alarm fatigue among nurses working in the intensive care unit has garnered considerable attention as a national patient safety priority. A viable solution for reducing the frequency of alarms and unnecessary noise is intensive care unit alarm monitor customization.

Local Problem

A 24-bed cardiovascular and thoracic surgery intensive care unit in a large academic medical center identified a high rate of alarms and associated noise as a problem contributing to nurse alarm fatigue.


An alarm monitor quality improvement project used both alarm frequency and nurse surveys before and after implementation to determine the effectiveness of interventions. Multimodal interventions included nurse training sessions, informational flyers, organizational policies, and an alarm monitor training video. Unexpected results inspired an extensive investigation and secondary analysis, which included examining the data-capturing capabilities of the alarm monitors and the impact of context factors.


Alarm frequencies unexpectedly increased after the intervention. The software data-capturing features of the alarm monitors for determining frequency did not accurately measure nurse interactions with monitors. Measured increases in patient census, nurse staffing, and data input from medical devices from before to after the intervention substantially affected project results.


Alarm frequencies proved an unreliable measure of nurse skills and practices in alarm customization. Documented changes in context factors provided strong anecdotal evidence of changed circumstances that clarified project results and underscored the critical importance of contemporaneous collection of context data. Designs and methods used in quality improvement projects must include reliable outcome measures to achieve meaningful results.

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