Hospitals are intended to be havens of health and restoration, but among the factors contributing to patient dissatisfaction, high noise levels continues to be the most common complaint. A study conducted by the University of Chicago revealed that hospitals universally featured noise levels above the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 30 dB, even at night. The study reported that the same patients slept significantly less while in the hospital than they would in their homes. Further, the majority of the problematic sounds originated in staff conversation, accounting for 65% of noise disruptions reported by patients. Other sounds included alarms, pagers, intercoms, and roommates.
This reduced sleep can contribute to a number of health problems, included elevated heart rate upon waking, an overall increase in blood pressure, and a generally longer healing period. Patients have reported feeling less at ease and unable to rest meaningfully, making recovery more difficult.
In 2012, Medicare began docking hospitals a portion of their reimbursement payments based on patient’s ratings of the quality of the care they received. Among these ratings, noise complaints have consistently represented the lowest satisfaction score, with only 60% of patients stating that their room was acceptably quiet at night. With these financial consequences and general concerns over patient care growing, many hospitals have begun taking steps to address noise issues.
Working to Reduce Hospital Noise
Among the efforts to reduce troublesome noise levels, wireless technology has emerged as an option to replace alarms and pages from medical equipment, as well and inter-personnel communication, as doctors and nurses are equipped with mobile headsets that can be directly signaled. Some hospitals are forming “quiet teams” to identify how the facility can reduce noise, while some are providing patients with Quiet Kits containing ear plugs, face masks, and Do Not Disturb signs.
Another popular option focuses on soundscaping, also known as sound masking, which uses white noise and other techniques to improve sounds, rather than eliminating them. By turning the inevitable buzz of hospital activity into indistinct white noise, the atmosphere will allow patients to relax and rest more easily.
Other measures include installing a noise meter resembling a traffic light, with green, yellow, and red lights alerting staff and visitors to the volume of the area. Some hospitals have started requesting that patients fill out a “Sleep Menu”, denoting their sleeping preferences and providing the options for warm blankets and aromatherapy.
There’s no debate over the importance of sleep. Healthcare professionals agree that sleep is one of the most imperative elements in keeping the body healthy and recovering from an illness or injury. How to ensure that patients get this much needed rest, however, is a subject of more debate. Hopefully these efforts to reduce troublesome noise for hospital patients will gradually result in a more beneficial atmosphere.