Dave Osborn

Dave Osborn

At a Saturday afternoon session at AAMI 2014, three contributors to a pending standards document on distributed alarm systems reviewed approaches to alarm risk management. Known as “Technical Report IEC 80001-2-5,” the report is one of eight that support IEC standard 80001-1, which covers risk management for IT networks incorporating medical devices.

The session was moderated by Oliver Christ of consulting firm Prosystem AG and a lead author of the report. He was joined by report co-authors Juergen Stettin, also of Prosystem, and Dave Osborn, senior manager, international standards & regulations, for Philips Healthcare.

According to Osborn, the scope of the technical report is distributed alarms that are presented visually or otherwise in more than one place, such as a central station or hallway displays. They may involve an alarm server or middleware with distributed communicators such as marquees, pagers, or smartphones. The report lays out three types of “distributed” alarm systems: distributed information systems, distributed alarm systems, and distributed alarm systems with operator confirmation.

In the first type, communicators only provide information about an alarm, and the caregiver is within earshot of the alarm itself. In distributed alarm systems, the communicator provides both the alarm itself and information about it.  The third type adds caregiver confirmation of receiving the alarm notification.

Understanding and distinguishing between these types of distributed alarm systems “is a fundamental risk-management consideration,” Osborn said. The technical report, he continued, “tries to give you the road map to do this correctly.”

The technical report is still a work in progress, the speakers noted. “The alarms area is one of the more complicated distribution systems in healthcare,” Osborn said, “and we have a long way to go to be where we need to be.”

John Bethune is editorial director of 24×7. He can be reached at [email protected].