5 steps to quiet damaging hospital noise

Hospital noise interrupts patients' sleep patterns, influences their blood pressure and puts added stress on hospital staff--all reasons for organizations to find ways to reduce the constant commotion.

Hospital leaders can follow these five steps to decrease noise around recovering patients and working staff, writes Susan E. Mazer, Ph.D., president and CEO of Healing HealthCare Systems in Reno, Nevado in an article for Hospitals & Health Networks:

  1. Assess the situation. Engage front-line staff to identify problem areas and determine the current noise status in the hospital. Determine what's needed to fix that problem and how to best achieve the fix.

  2. Implement acoustic treatments and sound masking. Lay new quiet, cleanable flooring, and put in ceiling treatments that absorb sound and meet regulatory controls. Look into room treatments that ensure speech privacy, and consider playing music for a positive distraction with masking qualities.

  3. Establish maintenance and purchasing standards. Medical equipment has a large auditory impact on a hospital. Healthcare organizations should "require manufacturers to report the auditory impact to the user, environment and patient," she writes.

  4. Create communication technology policies. Establish ground rules for using certain technologies, training staff and personal paging systems.

  5. Promote a noise-conscious hospital culture. Educate and engage staff in the process, and give ongoing feedback regarding performance on noise standards and holding everyone accountable. "The goal is not to silence your organization, but to have the sound of your hospital reflect your mission and values," according to Mazer.

Technology can also reduce hospital noise. Peter Otto, a music and sonic arts professor at the University of California San Diego, developed a sound bender, a small machine that directs sound. In a hospital, a sound bender could restrict sound to the people who need to hear it, FierceHealthcare previously reported. If a hospital directed the machine at a nurses' station, it could project announcements specifically to nurses without waking patients or disturbing other staff, or it could keep alarms from disrupting surgeries.

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