The high number of false alarms in neonatal units which waste
valuable medical time could be significantly reduced with new
Premature babies often need special care
Edinburgh University scientists have designed a system
to establish why the alarms, estimated as many as 94%, can sound when
nothing is clinically wrong.
Presently alarms can sound when a baby moves or is being handled, for instance when changing a nappy.
The new system can also detect danger signs at a much earlier stage.
Professor Neil McIntosh, professor of child life and
health at Edinburgh University, said: "Alarms going off needlessly are
a major problem.
"Because it happens so often, the worry is that they could go ignored when there is in fact a problem.
"It also creates extra noise in an environment where sound should ideally be kept to a minimum.
"We have devised a system that looks at the monitoring
data as a whole - for instance changes to the heart rate and
respiratory rate together as opposed to individually.
"This is more likely to indicate what causes the alarm to go off and if there is indeed a problem."
The technology, devised by Professor Chris Williams and
his postgraduate student John Quinn with Professor McIntosh, would
potentially be able to link monitoring machines to a computer that
keeps a constant record of any changes that may affect the baby's
It works out an "X-factor" to understand whether the
changes are clinically significant or whether they are, for instance,
simply a result of a probe being dislodged. It also has the potential
to indicate problems much sooner.
Professor McIntosh added if a baby's heart rate drops to zero suddenly then it was because a monitoring wire has come off.
He said it was "physically impossible" for a baby's heart rate to go instantly to zero as they always gradually slow down.