AlertMeter® is a graphical cognitive alertness test lasting 60-90 seconds. It has been shown through both clinical and workplace analyses to satisfy the need for a practical and workplace-friendly way for assessing fitness for duty on a daily basis and particularly before employees perform critical tasks.
Originally validated in a NIOSH-funded clinical study in 2009, AlertMeter® has since been successfully deployed in a growing number of safety-sensitive organizations across different industries. It meets key requirements for a workplace-friendly fit-for-duty test:
Having developed a computer-based test for measuring cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer's dementia, inventor Henry Bowles and his company, Bowles-Langley Technology, adapted the test for potential use in workplace environment as a pre-shift alertness screen.
The prototype test was the subject of a study funded by the National Institutes of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) in 2009. The study confirmed the adapted test's ability to detect cognitive impairment among sleep-deprived people.
Because the test was short, lasting under two minutes, it immediately demonstrated more promise for practical implementation in real workplaces than other validated cognitive tests, which last several minutes or more.
In 2010, the National Workrights Institute published a study on workplace impairment testing that involved various types of impairment tests, including the cognitive test developed by Bowles-Langley Technology (the AlertMeter® prototype). The study's participants comprised several organizations and businesses who "faced serious safety problems if employees came to work impaired." In addition, most of the participant organizations "realized that drug testing had severe limitations and wanted something better." Although the study included only a small sample, it nonetheless yielded remarkable results:
Since 2010, advancements and updates to Bowles-Langley Technology's original test have kept it easy to use and implement in virtually any work environment. Now called AlertMeter®, the test is available in two formats, one on a touchscreen tablet or personal computer, and the other for an Apple iPhone or Android-based smartphone. AlertMeter® represents a significant change in the way employers can manage impairment risk in their workplaces because it addresses key issues weighing on their minds, as well as the minds of managers, safety pros, and workers' compensation insurance providers.
The AlertMeter® test interface displays graphic "items," or "screens," in sequence. Each item comprises a modified checkerboard or grid with shapes presented in the white squares. On some screens, all the shapes are identical; on other screens, one of the shapes will be different from the rest.
The user's task is to determine whether all the shapes are the same, regardless of shape rotation. If they are all the same, the user taps or clicks a green button indicating "They're all the same!" If one shape is different, the user taps or clicks on the different shape within the grid. Response times and accuracy are recorded, and a score is computed at the end of the test. A typical test displays 30 items and takes about 60 to 90 seconds.
The test software draws from a library of sets of similar shapes, or shape "families." When a particular item is constructed by the software, it draws from one of the shape families. Certain items present more of a challenge than others, and the difficulty level of each item is quantified and assigned a difficulty score using Item Response Theory (IRT). One test session will then present a sequence of items that are balanced among easy and difficult, and this ensures each test session's difficulty is approximately the same.
Each AlertMeter® user must establish a baseline, or personal performance standard, which is generally achieved after 10 completed tests. This baseline is repeatedly recalculated with regular use, accounting for the "learning effect," or increased familiarity and aptitude with the test.
Since its prototype's inclusion in the National Workrights Institute's 2010 study, AlertMeter® has been garnering attention among academics and has begun to be used in a variety of clinical and applied workplace research.
In 2016, AlertMeter® was used in a study among 300 emergency medicine resident physicians at an academic hospital in the Midwest. The study showed a general correlation between average AlertMeter® scores and time of day. In addition, the study showed a general correlation between the residents' self-reported alertness levels and their AlertMeter® test scores. The report of findings is currently under review for publication in an academic journal.
In 2017, another academic hospital in the Northeast began using AlertMeter® alongside other forms of computer-based assessments to investigate marijuana intoxication impacts certain cognitive abilities. This research is still underway. Also in 2017, researchers at Colorado State University investigated AlertMeter® use among companies participating in a NIOSH-funded pilot project. The findings from this research will be presented in Fall 2018.
Numerous research activities are ongoing internally, including analyses regarding specific shape combinations and shape families. Also, internal research involves examining correlations between performance data from clients collected between 2016-2018 and the original 2009 clinical prototype validation. Planned future research activities include additional validation studies of AlertMeter's® static grid and mobile platforms. Researchers from Colorado State University, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and the University of Denver are interested in using AlertMeter® for various studies, including an inquiry into different baselining methodologies, an examination of fatigue and compromised alertness risk in the transportation industry, and effects of brain-based training interventions for police academy cadets. These studies are expected to commence in 2018 and 2019.