Are today’s hospitals creating an environment that encourages healing and recovery?
A 2012 study from the University of Chicago found average noise levels in hospital rooms easily exceeded the recommended 30 decibels, and peak noise levels sometimes approached the decibel level of a chain saw.1
That sure doesn’t sound therapeutic to me!
At Voalte, we believe reducing hospital noise can improve the patient experience and positively impact HCAHPS scores. Now, there’s evidence that lowering noise also affects patient outcomes.
In another study last year, Orfeu M. Buxton, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School found a correlation between patient health and noise levels, stating that lowering the noise level in hospitals “would decrease patient stays and improve healing, and perhaps even reduce readmission rates.”2
He also found that some noises are more disruptive than others. In particular, patient heart rates jumped consistently due to the sound of electronic alarms and ringing telephones.
This anxiety makes perfect sense to me. Imagine being a patient in an unfamiliar setting, away from home, and facing the unknown regarding your health. You might wonder:
- Why are all these alarms going off? Did someone die? Are they for me?
- Why does the nurse keep leaving my room to talk on the phone? Is she talking to my doctor? Why don’t they want me to hear?
- Why is this machine attached to me beeping? What does it mean? Am I taking a turn for the worse?
Too often, caregivers and the communication tools they use only add to the cacophony … and the anxiety. Many nurses are given phones as their main tool to communicate with other caregivers, departments and doctors. Yet HIPAA requires they don’t discuss clinical matters in front of a patient, so every phone call causes an interruption as the nurse leaves the patient’s bedside to answer the call. If the nurse is too busy to answer, other noisy strategies such as overhead paging attempt to locate them.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Secure text messaging via smartphone can eliminate up to 70 percent of ringing telephones and nearly all overhead paging. Alarm management tools can integrate disjointed devices and assign levels so all alarms are not treated equally.
As scientific evidence supports the importance of lowering the noise level in hospitals, old attitudes are changing gradually. Maybe what will truly push the urgency of this issue will be the new policies linking hospital reimbursement to patient satisfaction.
1. Jordan C. Yoder, BSE; Paul G. Staisiunas, BA; David O. Meltzer, MD, PhD; Kristen L. Knutson, PhD; Vineet M. Arora, MD, MAPP, Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(1):68-70. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.603.
2. Orfeu M. Buxton, Ph.D., assistant professor, Harvard Medical School, and associate neuroscientist, division of sleep medicine, department of medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston; Gulshan Sharma, M.D., M.P.H., director, Medical Intensive Care Unit, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; June 12, 2012, Annals of Internal Medicine.