Noise in healthcare
Doctor asking for a quiet environment for her patient and newborn baby.
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Sounding the Alarm for Noise in Healthcare

One consistent, but often unnoticed, reality of most hospitals and healthcare environments is that they can be quite noisy, and this can have a multitude of effects on staff and patients alike.

From sirens to crying babies, hospitals are home to a cacophony of sounds that can influence the well-being of anyone within earshot. Over the years, there have been numerous studies that consistently demonstrate that high levels of noise in healthcare settings will typically have a negative impact on both patients and staff.

Problems for Patients

Patients recovering in a hospital must be placed in an environment that gives them every opportunity to recover quickly and completely. Research shows that the level of noise that patients experience can have a significant impact on recovery. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends sound levels in hospitals be under 35 decibels during the day and under 30 decibels during the night; however, many hospitals fail to meet these recommended levels.[1] Some of the consequences that patients can face with higher than recommended noise levels are sleep disruption, decreased oxygen saturation, elevated blood pressure, decreased rate of wound healing and heightened incidence of rehospitalisation.[2] This ultimately leads to longer recovery periods that can be a drain on resources that could be utilized elsewhere.

The effects are similar for infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where a quiet atmosphere is especially important. Here loud noise levels have shown to decrease oxygen saturation (increasing need for oxygen support therapy), elevate blood pressure, increase heart and respiration rate, and decrease the quality sleep. [3] This suggests that hospitals must do more to ensure that the environment for patients, both young and old, is as quiet as possible to help shorten admission time and improve overall patient care.

Staff Stress

The patients are not the only people who are affected by higher than recommended noise levels in healthcare environments. In 2006, a Swedish study on the impact of room acoustics found that noise-induced stress was related to emotional exhaustion, burnout among critical-care workers and also impacted patient comfort and recovery. [4] When healthcare staff experience fatigue, become exhausted, or has increased difficulty communicating, then it is possible that patient safety could be impacted by errors by hospital staff.

Communication is particularly important within a healthcare setting, especially when life and death decisions are being made. The ability to speak and be clearly understood is one way that healthcare staff can ensure that mistakes are avoided and that patients are getting the best possible care.

Identifying the Problem

Sound control is a complicated issue in healthcare settings and most hospitals exceed the recommended guidelines. Patients require peace and quiet to properly recover and the staff needs to be able to listen and concentrate while performing their tasks. There are two main reasons why hospitals are noisy. First, there are many noise sources present, such as alarms, paging systems, telephones and the groups of visitors passing through on a daily basis. The second source of noise comes from walls, floor, and ceiling that tend to be sound-reflecting rather than sound-absorbing. [5] These problem sources are not always immediately obvious and mean that even the smallest reduction in noise can provide a benefit.

Hand Hygiene and Noise

Touchless dispensers are growing in popularity around the world, and for good reason. We know that 80% of infections are transmitted through hands, and that comprehensive hand hygiene programs in healthcare are the best way to prevent the spread of those infections. To ensure the highest standard of hand hygiene, touchless dispensers are often preferred. The elimination of physical contact with a dispenser prevents cross-contamination between patients, visitors and healthcare staff. Research also shows that touchless dispensers can increase hand hygiene per patient day by more than 50%. [6]

Touchless dispensers in healthcare however, can be their own sources of noise. Our internal research shows that dispensers on the market can reach noise levels in excess of 70 dB, well above the WHO guidelines. With frequent activations, especially at night, this could have a significantly negative impact on patients.

What can be done?

Research suggests that environmental interventions may be effective in reducing the noise levels in hospitals and improving the acoustic environment. Key interventions include installing high performance sound-absorbing ceiling tiles, eliminating or reducing noise sources (for example, adopting a noiseless paging system), and providing single-bed rather than multi-bed rooms. [7] It may not always be easy for healthcare facilities to make these changes, but the science shows that a holistic approach to solving noise pollution in healthcare can have a significant impact on the health of patients.

OPHARDT hygiene has been working hard to reduce the noise level of touchless dispensers, in order to improve patient care. Our engineering teams are constantly working to improve our touchless drive performance, and have recently brought noise levels of our touchless drives well below 60 db. Whether your touchless dispenser is located in a hallway, next to a patient bed, or attached to a neonatal incubator, you can rest assured that OPHARDT hygiene is pushing the industry standard to ensure that our dispensers minimize any stress associated with a high-quality hand hygiene program.

Along with the improved touchless dispensers, OPHARDT also offers a line of quiet stainless steel waste bins featuring a soft-close lid system that is virtually unnoticeable while closing. These bins help provide a safe and hygienic environment while ensuring that noise is kept to a minimum.

For all of the similarities that healthcare facilities have, they each also face challenges that are unique to themselves. Not every solution will be feasible in every healthcare environment. However, if awareness is raised on the importance of sound control and facilities take active measure to decrease noise levels, than there is a good chance that staff processes may become more efficient and overall patient care will improve.


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