In-ear device filters out medical alarms for ICU patients

Medical alarms may be necessary for hospital staff, but they also keep patients awake. Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have developed a wearable capable of silencing audible medical alarms to improve outcomes of patients in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Presented at the International Community for Auditory Display (ICAD) at Penn State, the study aims at improving outcomes by blocking out loud noises like medical alarms. These alarms disturb patient sleep and, in turn, contribute to psychological disorders such as delirium and post-traumatic stress. By blocking out these alarms, but still allowing patients to hear speech and environmental sounds, researchers hope to advance research into similar wearable devices.

"The shrill and quantity of audible medical alarms are responsible for many negative consequences for patients," said Joseph J. Schlesinger, MD, assistant professor of anesthesia at Vanderbilt’s division of critical care medicine. "The noise of the alarm combined with its frequency often disturbs patients' sleep patterns, which can be very disorienting. We wanted to create a way that clinicians would still be alerted to necessary patient alarms, while providing a better environment for the patient's healing process.”

Schlesinger and a team of students developed the in-ear device that eliminates alarm sounds by digitally deleting sound waves but keeping and improving speech comprehension. When testing the device in an ICU setting, results showed the device was able to filter alarm sounds effectively.

"This will need further study in large patient populations to look at patient outcomes, benefits and safety," said Schlesinger. "I anticipate we will have some interest from multiple sites to investigate use in patients. Future directions also include a device for clinicians that would transmit the alarm signals directly to the nurse and physician caring for a particular patient."