Hearing management

Updated 13 December 2017

Shhhh! Patients are sleeping

Hospitals are meant to be places of recovery. But how tranquil are they really?

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In hospitals around the world, noise complaints are booming. But some medical centres are trying to stem the "round-the-clock" racket.

Medical equipment, air circulation machinery, announcements and staff pages create a cacophony of sounds 24/7 that can stress patients, staff and visitors alike, said Ilene Busch-Vishniac, a consultant on noise control.

Bad for health and communication 

Besides sleep disruptions, high noise levels in hospitals can change patients' heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. These, in turn, boost stress levels and may slow healing, said Busch-Vishniac, of BeoGrin Consulting in Baltimore.

Excessive noise can also interfere with communication between hospital staff and patients, she added.

The effect that excessive noise levels have on nursing staff also needs to be considered. Because nurses spend more time in hospitals, they experience most of the burden from excessive occupational noise levels.

Alarms the biggest culprits

Equipment alarms are a major source of hospital noise. While some of these alarms alert staff to changes in a patient's medical condition, others sound when medication or batteries are running low.

"Alarms in hospitals are being horribly abused. Most of the time, they don't in fact indicate urgent situations," Busch-Vishniac said in a news release from the Acoustical Society of America.

Bedside alarms sound an average 133 times a day, according to background research with the study.

"Most alarms are being responded to eventually, but not all in a timely fashion," Busch-Vishniac said. "Staff also may not respond quickly because they recognise that the sound is not critical and the situation will right itself."

How to reduce noise levels

Busch-Vishniac said she has reviewed the limited number of studies dealing with hospital noise.

Steps hospitals are taking include installing noise-dampening materials in the walls and ceilings; keeping the door to a patient's room closed; and establishing quiet hours when doors are closed and voices are kept low.

Another approach is having alarms sound at the nursing stations as well as in a patient's room, which means the alarm volume can be turned down.

In the future, it may be possible to do away with bedside alarms, Busch-Vishniac said.

She is scheduled to present her research at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, in New Orleans.

Image credit: iStock 

 

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Hearing Expert

Rene Hornby has been the owner of a private practice in Pretoria since 1999. AuD degree obtained in 2013 at AT Still University Health Science Depart-ment, Arizona. Masters in Communication Pathology at the University of Pretoria, 2003. Remedial Teaching Diploma at Rand University, 1996. Degree in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at the University of Pretoria, 1993. Owner of a private practice in Pretoria since 1999. Educating the community regarding early identification of hearing problems and screening of new-borns. Providing assistance and services at retirement homes. Part-time lecturer at the University of Pretoria and the University of Limpopo. External examiner at the University of Pretoria and the University of Limpopo. Presenter at conferences and seminars.

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