Most hospitals are getting louder. Here's how some are quieting down.

One study found some hospitals' nighttime noise is as loud as a chainsaw

Some hospitals are identifying noises that may disrupt patients' recovery and finding innovative ways to lower the volume, Lauren Alix Brown writes in Quartz.

Hospitals are filled with noises, from squeaky cart wheels to snoring patients, and research shows the sounds have grown louder over time. For instance, a 2005 study of global hospitals found that in 1960, daytime noise was about 57 decibels and nighttime noise was about 42 decibels. By 2005, hospital noise had risen to 72 decibels during the day and 60 decibels at night, with some hospitals reporting nighttime noises over 100 decibels—as loud as a chainsaw. According to the World Health Organization, nighttime noises above 55 decibels can cause sleep disturbance. The organization recommends a noise level of 30 decibels or less for sleeping.

To quiet the cacophony, some hospital officials are listening to patient feedback and turning to acousticians, researchers and musicians for their insights.

Hospital interventions

At the Josie Robertson Surgery Center of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, patients and family receive badges connected to a real-time GPS system. This allows nurses and care team members to find a patient or family member without making a loud, disruptive call on an overhead pager.

Other hospitals are working to reduce alarm noise. According to the Joint Commission, up to 99 percent of alarms in hospitals do not require clinical intervention. To cut down on the incessant beeping, some experts have recommended nurses use wearable devices that can alert them to changes in patients' vital signs via silent vibrations.

But while beeps and alarms can be irritating, a small study at Johns Hopkins Medicine found that patients are most upset by the sounds of other patients.

Yoko Kamitani Sen, founder of Sen Sound, which conducted the study with Johns Hopkins, said, "Repeatedly the answer we got ... was the voice of somebody who is suffering in pain [is the most annoying to patients]. Lots of patients expressed that across the hallway they can hear others in pain moaning, screaming."

Hospital goes 'quiet,' tries to eliminate overhead pages

While it's not always possible to drown out other patients, there are design changes hospitals can make to reduce noises of discomfort. At Josie Robertson Surgery Center, all patients have private rooms, and Cleveland Clinic's new cancer center will provide each patient receiving chemotherapy a private room.

While hospital design is important, experts say changes in staff culture can also benefit patients. Something as simple as closing the door to a patient's room—which is normally left open to facilitate easy access to the patient—can reduce noise and provide a more restful environment, Alix Brown writes (Alix Brown, Quartz, 8/31).

How to enrich the patient experience through empathetic care

To ensure a positive patient experience, nurse leaders and frontline staff need to offer an empathic approach to the care they provide.

Join Advisory Board experts for a webconference Thursday, September 22, where we'll review the skills necessary for fostering a culture of empathy and performing purposeful leader rounding. We'll also show you how to effectively incorporate technology into the rounding process and utilize the data collected during purposeful rounding.

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