Monitoring vital signs with time-compressed speech

Penelope M. SANDERSON, Birgit BRECKNELL, Sokyee LEONG, Sara KLUEBER, Erik WOLF, Anna HICKLING, Tsz-lok TANG, Emilea BELL, Simon Y. W. LI, Robert G. LOEB

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Spearcons-time-compressed speech phrases-may be an effective way of communicating vital signs to clinicians without disturbing patients and their families. Four experiments tested the effectiveness of spearcons for conveying oxygen saturation (SpO 2 ) and heart rate (HR) of one or more patients. Experiment 1 demonstrated that spearcons were more effective than earcons (abstract auditory motifs) at conveying clinical ranges. Experiment 2 demonstrated that casual listeners could not learn to decipher the spearcons whereas listeners told the exact vocabulary could. Experiment 3 demonstrated that participants could interpret sequences of sounds representing multiple patients better with spearcons than with pitch-based earcons, especially when tones replaced the spearcons for normal patients. Experiment 4 compared multiple-patient monitoring of two vital signs with either spearcons, a visual display showing SpO 2 and HR in the same temporal sequence as the spearcons, or a visual display showing multiple patient levels simultaneously. All displays conveyed which patients were abnormal with high accuracy. Visual displays better conveyed the vital sign levels for each patient, but cannot be used eyes-free. All displays showed accuracy decrements with working memory load. Spearcons may be viable for single and multiple patient monitoring. Further research should test spearcons with more vital signs, during multitasking, and longitudinally.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberPMID:30883150
Pages (from-to)647-673
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Issue number4
Early online date18 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

German Federal Ministry for Education and Research Australian Research Council; Discovery Project


  • Alarms
  • Auditory displays
  • Patient monitoring
  • Spearcons
  • Time-compressed speech


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