The Problem of Hospital Noise

Hospitals are loud.  I remember delivering all 3 of my babies and looking forward to sleeping that night. I sort of knew that my baby might want to nurse all night or just not want to sleep, but it never occurred to me that my real enemy was the hospital itself.  From waking us up to see how I was feeling {fine, obviously, since I was sleeping!} to annoying alarms that were not at all tied to life or death, I found that I couldn’t wait to exchange this loud environment for the comfort and peacefulness of my own home!

As a matter of fact, I am not alone in my distaste for excessive or unnecessary hospital noise.  A small study, published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that as the overall level of noise increased in the hospital, sleep was more likely to be disrupted. When the patients’ sleep was disrupted, their heart rates increased.  Furthermore, researchers found that a noisy hospital environment that causes disturbed sleep “may lead to increased use of medicines like sedatives that have side effects such as increased falls and increased rates of delirium. This can lead to a longer hospital stay,” he said.  Longer stays do not make for happy patients.

Unhappy patients are important because according to Press Ganey patient satisfaction surveys, there is a clear link between patient satisfaction and their perception of quality of care and profitability.

  • Satisfied patients experience less stress themselves.
  • Satisfied patients present less stress to medical staff, resulting in fewer errors and more profit.
  • Satisfied patients also share their experiences with others and are willing to refer your practice or hospital to their friends and family.

How to Reduce Noise

This link between patient perception and their satisfaction was what drove the researchers to perform the study.

Dr. Orfeu Buxton and Dr. Jo Solet, two of the study’s authors, said they “have heard what the patients have been saying in patient satisfaction reports, which is that there is too much noise in the hospital,” and they launched the study in order to better understand the types and volume of sounds that caused the most disruption while understanding how noise affects the patient.

The authors suggested that hospital administrators need to address three key issues to create a restful environment:

  1. The acoustics of the hospital
  2. The routines of hospital staff
  3. Eliminating the noises from medical equipment.

In fact, two of the three key issues can be addressed with sound masking.  In fact, one hospital implemented routine changes such as a silent nurse calling system, as well as noise-reducing flooring and sound masking systems “to decrease noise and increase privacy.”

Thus, just by changing routines, eliminating useless noise, and installing a good sound masking system work to improve patient health and their satisfaction, as a result.

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