Hospitals reduce noise to improve recovery

Hospitals that lower the lights, have clinicians put phones on vibrate and rehab their air handling systems may be able to cut their noise levels by up to 90 percent, as well improve the patient recovery process, according to an article in today's Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune lays out the long-standing case against noise in hospitals, which some studies show has risen to an average of 72 decibels--nearly double the safe level of 40 decibels set by the World Health Organization. Research has argued in favor of noise control for decades in U.S. healthcare, but with little result.

Until now: Hospitals like Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago are installing special sound-dampening (but easy-to-clean) carpet and contaminant-resistant wall panels, as well as relocating nurses' stations, trash bins and other noisy areas away from patient rooms, note the Tribune and the Dallas Morning News.

One of the most interesting sound-killing gadgets is in use at Swedish Covenant and Resurrection Health Care's St. Joseph Hospital. It's a sound meter called a "Yacker Tracker" that is designed to mimic a stoplight and flashes red when noise levels around it rise.

Other successes at hospitals around the U.S. invlude installing rubber wheels on hallway carts and gurneys, posting signs to alert clinicians to everyday activities that contribute to noise levels, and instituting blocks of "quiet time" for patients to get uninterrupted rest.

It's apparently a movement patients are ready, and hungry, for. Once Johns Hopkins completed its pilot quiet project on one of four targeted wards, "the staff from the other three wards demanded the same treatment in their wards," says James West, one of the hospital engineers in charge of the program.

To learn more:
- read the Chicago Tribune article
- check out the Dallas Morning News report
- get more detail on noise control efforts