Turning down the volume: Hospital experiments with sound panels to reduce noise

Complaints that hospital noise from monitors and paging systems interrupts patients' sleep and can influence their blood pressure and heart rates has led one Michigan system to borrow a method used in music rooms to make the hospital quieter and improve patient care.

The University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor says it is experimenting with sound acoustic panels to help diffuse sound in patient hallways. Findings from its pilot study, published in BMJ Quality and Safety, indicate that the sound-absorbing panels led to a three to four sound decibel drop, similar with a fall in noise generated by a car slowing down from 80 mph to 60 mph. 

"In hospital environments where noise levels are often double what they should be according to the World Health Organization's standard decibel guidelines for patient rooms, the difference is significant," Majtaba Navvab, Ph.D., associate professor of architecture and design at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, said in the study announcement. 

The  architectural design could complement ongoing strategies for addressing noise in the hospital environment, lead study author Peter M. Farrehi, M.D., a cardiologist at the U-M Health System, said in the statement.

In addition to the sound panels, the hospital is promoting a culture of quiet by providing complimentary ear buds and headphones to patients and families; setting quiet hours in all inpatient areas, setting pagers to vibrate when medically appropriate and providing a "white noise" television channel in patient rooms. 

Last summer, Inspira Health Network, a nonprofit healthcare system comprised of three hospitals in southern New Jersey, eliminated noise by using technology to reduce the number of overhead pages, a frequent source of patient complaints. So, the health system replaced its broadcast system with direct communication between physicians and patients--doctors can be reached on their cell phones, as well as customized messages.

To learn more:
- here's the study announcement
- read the study abstract

Related articles:
Noisy hospitals pose patient safety risks
5 steps to quiet damaging hospital noise
Hospital reduces damaging noise with direct communication technologies

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