Cognition, Technology & Work

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 239–246 | Cite as

Nurses’ reactions to alarms in a neonatal intensive care unit

  • Yuval Bitan
  • Joachim Meyer
  • David Shinar
  • Ehud Zmora
Original Article


Neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), like other intensive care units, are intended to provide immediate responses to any change in the patient’s condition. Patient-monitoring alarms and alarms from other medical equipment are very common in these units, and most alarms have no clinical significance. This study addresses the question of how alarms affect nurses’ actions by measuring the occurrence of alarms from different causes in a NICU, recording the nurses’ reactions, and analyzing the relationship between the alarms and the actions. The results show that nurses often do not respond directly to alarms, but, rather, use them as additional sources of information in their ongoing flow of actions. The probabilities for their responding to an alarm depend on the causes of the alarm, its duration, and the characteristics of the patient. These findings support the view that experienced nurses dynamically adjust their activities according to the information they receive from alarm systems and other sources, and that they combine their reactive actions with the periodic performance of routine tasks.


Intensive care Alarms Scheduling strategic behavior 



This research was partly funded by a grant from the Israel Ministry of Health. We thank Mirit Shomer, Ayelet Yakubovish, Dror Ben-Yakar, and Idit Catz for their help in data collection in the NICU. Parts of this study were presented at the 44th Annual Meeting of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, San Diego, CA, August 2000.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yuval Bitan
    • 1
  • Joachim Meyer
    • 1
    • 2
  • David Shinar
    • 1
  • Ehud Zmora
    • 1
  1. 1.Ben Gurion University of the NegevBeer ShevaIsrael
  2. 2.Department of Industrial Engineering and ManagementBen Gurion University of the NegevBeer ShevaIsrael

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