Nurse Competence on Physiologic Monitors Use: Toward Eliminating Alarm Fatigue in Intensive Care Units

Azizeh K. Sowan*, a, b, Ana G. Verab, Elma I. Fonsecab, Charles C. Reedb, Albert F. Tarrielab, Andrea E. Berndta
a School of Nursing, University of Texas Health, San Antonio, 7703 Floyd Curl Dr. - MC 7975, TX 78229, USA
b University Health System, 4502 Medical Drive, San Antonio, Texas 78229, USA

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© 2017 Azizeh Khaled Sowan

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the School of Nursing, University of Texas Health, San Antonio, 7703 Floyd Curl Dr. - MC 7975, TX 78229, USA; Tel: 2105675799; Fax: 210-5671719; E-mails:,



Studies on nurse competence on alarm management are a few and tend to be focused on limited skills. In response to Phase II of implementing the National Patient Safety Goal on clinical alarm systems safety, this study assessed nurses’ perceived competence on physiologic monitors use in intensive care units (ICUs) and developed and validated a tool for this purpose.


This descriptive study took place in a Magnet hospital in a Southwestern state of the U.S. A Nurse Competence on Philips Physiologic Monitors Use Survey was created and went through validation by 13 expert ICU nurses. The survey included 5 subscales with 59 rated items and two open-ended questions. Items on the first 4 subscales reflect most common tasks nurses perform using physiologic monitors. Items on the fifth subscale (advanced functions) reflect rarely used skills and were included to understand the scope of utilizing advanced physiologic monitors’ features. Thirty nurses from 4 adult ICUs were invited to respond to the survey.


Thirty nurses (100%) responded to the survey. The majority of nurses were from Neuro (47%) and Surgical Trauma (37%) ICUs. The data supported the high reliability and construct validity of the survey. At least one (3%) to 8 nurses (27%) reported lack of confidence on each item on the survey. On the first four subscales, 3% - 40% of the nurses reported they had never heard of or used 27 features/functions on the monitors. No relationships were found between subscales’ scores and demographic characteristics (p > .05). Nurses asked for training on navigating the central-station monitor and troubleshooting alarms, and the use of unit-specific super users to tailor training to users’ needs.


This is the first study to create and test a list of competencies for physiologic monitors use. Rigorous, periodic and individualized training is essential for safe and appropriate use of physiologic monitors and to decrease alarm fatigue. Training should be comprehensive to include all necessary skills and should not assume proficiency on basic skills. Special attention should be focused on managing technical alarms. Increasing the number of super users is a recommended strategy for individualized and unit-specific training. There is a need for a usability testing of complex IT-equipped medical devices, such as physiologic monitors, for effective, efficient and safe navigation of the monitors.

Keywords: Nurse competence, Physiologic monitors, Alarm fatigue, Intensive care units, ICUs, Survey.