Rx for quieting noise in hospitals

Numerous research studies have shown the installation of high-performance acoustical ceilings in patient rooms results in reduced noise levels, thereby enhancing the healing environment.

Effect on patients
Numerous research studies also validate the belief noise is annoying to patients, largely because of its impact on sleep. Noise in hospitals has been linked to sleep disturbance and arousals among patients—both can lead to increased pain perception and, consequently, impact patient medications and healing. (Find out more in the article, “Sleep in the Intensive Care Unit,” written by S. Parthasarathy and S.J. Tobin, published in the June 2014 issue of Journal of Intensive Care Medicine.)

Additionally, a study evaluated the effect of reduced reverberation time on sleep by exposing subjects to sound stimuli, with and without sound-absorbing ceiling panels. (Read “Impact of Reduced Reverberation Time on Sound-Induced Arousals During Sleep,” written by S. Berg and published by SLEEP in May 2001.) The study found arousals following specific sound stimuli were significantly reduced when reverberation time was reduced with sound-absorbing ceiling panels. Subjects evidenced far better sleep quality (less sleep fragmentation) in patient rooms with shorter reverberation times compared to those with longer reverberation times.

Healing is affected
A similar study assessed the effect of room acoustics on patients admitted to a coronary care unit (CCU). (The 2005 article,“Influence of Coronary Care Acoustics on the Quality of Care and Physiological States Of Patients” by I. Hagerman, G. Rasmanis, V. Blomkvist, R.S. Ulrich, C.A. Eriksen, and T. Theorell was published in International Journal of Cardiology.) As part of the study, room acoustics were altered by changing ceiling panels throughout the unit from sound-reflecting panels to sound-absorbing panels of similar appearance. Patients were monitored with regard to blood pressure, pulse amplitude, and heart rate. The study indicated significant improvements after the changeover, especially in regard to pulse amplitude, with lower values during the night after the changeover.

Additionally, the study found the incidence of re-hospitalization was lower for patients after the changeover compared to those before it. Patients found staff attitudes had improved and patients were awakened less during the night. The study concludes a poor acoustical environment during acute illness may, therefore, have important detrimental physiological effects on recuperation.

Loud noise levels are also a key concern in healthcare settings such as neonatal intensive care units (NICU) where premature infants have a high sensitivity to noise. Studies show loud noise levels in NICU environments increase the need for oxygen support, elevate blood pressure, increase heart and respiration rates, and worsen sleep. (A.N. Johnson provides extensive information on noise levels in neonatal intensive care units in his 2001 article “Neonatal Response To Control of Noise Inside the Incubator,” published in Pediatric Nursing.)

Acoustical ceiling panels with combined high-performance sound absorption and sound-blocking abilities in the same panel are ideal for corridors and patient rooms.

Effect of noise on staff
Noise can also be a source of annoyance and stress to hospital staff, and interfere with their ability to work effectively, especially in regard to speech intelligibility, which is key in healthcare because nurses and physicians must constantly comprehend and act on many types of auditory information in a high-stress environment. High levels of noise can lead to distractions and a loss of focus. A major concern is patient safety in the form of medical errors caused by compromised oral communication.

A poor acoustical environment also makes it difficult for healthcare staff to understand patients with different languages, accents, and speech patterns. Noise-induced stress is also related to emotional exhaustion and burnout.

To help determine the influence of acoustic conditions in the work environment, a study was conducted to examine their effect on patients in CCU, specifically investigating their impact on staff. (Visit dx.doi.org/10.1136/oem.2004.017632 to read “Acoustics and Psychosocial Environment in Coronary Intensive Care,” written by V. Blomkvist, C.A. Eriksen, T. Theorell, R.S. Ulrich, and G. Rasmanis and published by Occupational and Environmental Medicine.)

In this case, the study noted staff members were surprised by the improved speech intelligibility after the installation of new sound-absorbing ceiling panels as well as the perceived noise level. They reported feeling more relaxed with decreased irritability. Thus, the study raises the possibility important gains in the psychosocial work environment can also be achieved by improving room acoustics.

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