Alarming amounts of noise demand ways to silence noisy hospital environments

December 6, 2017, Acoustical Society of America
The word cloud of patient responses based on reports. Credit: The Beryl Institute

Spending a night in the hospital is not only stressful, but also loud. The constant beeps, whirrs and alarms ascend to a cacophony that produces anything but a relaxing, restful environment. Ilene Busch-Vishniac, of BeoGrin Consulting in Baltimore, Maryland, will summarize the limited number of studies available on hospital noise and discuss the different approaches health care facilities are taking to bring restful repose to patients across the country.

According to the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey, is the top complaint of patients, staff and visitors. "Nearly everyone has a stay in a hospital at some point," Busch-Vishniac said. "Noise is a universal problem in hospitals around the world."

Busch-Vishniac will explore these concepts during the 174th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, being held Dec. 4-8, 2017, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Noises emanate from a variety of sources at the bedside. Airflow and the noisy machines controlling it are kept on high to prevent pathogens from lingering near patients, and overhead pages alert staff of needs or announcements. Equipment alarms are the most egregious source, and although they are designed to alert staff of changes in the patient's medical condition, many also sound when medication needs to be changed or when battery conditions are low.

"Alarms in hospitals are being horribly abused," Busch-Vishniac said. "Most of the time, they don't in fact indicate urgent situations."

Previous studies showed that alarms at a patient's bedside sound an average 133 times per day. With so many alarms, staff often face fatigue as well.

"Most alarms are being responded to eventually, but not all in a timely fashion," said Busch-Vishniac. "Staff also may not respond quickly because they recognize that the sound is not critical and the situation will right itself."

Besides the obvious barrier to rest, high noise levels have been associated with changes in the patient's heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. These changes increase stress levels and may impair healing. The noise can also impair communication between patients and staff.

With noise levels on the rise, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) initiated the HCAHPS survey in 2008 to assess consumer perception of providers and systems. Today, more than 5,500 hospitals contribute to the report, which consists of patients' responses on seven composite measures, including questions focused on room cleanliness and quietness.

The survey has teeth. Hospital value-based purchasing links up to 30 percent of CMS payments to hospitals across the country to the results of the survey.

"Faced with a loss of money, many hospitals are looking for ways to address in a way that patients can see as an improvement," said Busch-Vishniac.

Hospitals have been developing and implementing noise control programs that can be broken into two categories: engineering and administrative interventions.

Engineering interventions aim to find ways to quiet the room. The solutions can be as simple as closing the door to a patient's room or as complex as installing acoustical absorption materials along the walls and ceiling to dampen the noise level. Administrative interventions focus on changing behaviors. Many hospitals have instituted quiet hours when doors are closed and voices are kept low.

One of the big changes during the past 10 years has shifted alarms from solely sounding at the patient's bedside to also alerting a central monitor at the nursing station. This approach improves the ability of to identify and respond to alarms set at a reduced volume.

According to Busch-Vishniac, it may be possible in the future to remove alarms from the bedside. A quiet may not be a pipedream for much longer.

Explore further: Rethinking hospital alarms

More information: Presentation 3pIDa: "Hospital noise: how bad is it?" by Ilene Busch-Vishniac, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Salon E in the New Orleans Marriott. asa2017fall.abstractcentral.com/s/u/M8hKSrQu66E

Related Stories

Rethinking hospital alarms

May 27, 2016
Hospital alarms are currently ranked as the "top medical technology hazard" within the United States. On average, there are about 480,000 patients in hospitals—each generating about 135 clinical alarms per day. But studies ...

Quiet please in the intensive care unit

May 30, 2016
A study presented at Euroanaesthesia 2016 shows that noise levels in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) can go well above recommended levels, disturbing both patients and the medical teams that care for them. The study is by Dr ...

Nurse! what's taking so long?

April 11, 2017
(HealthDay)—When a bedside alarm goes off in a child's hospital room, anxious parents expect nurses to respond pronto.

You rang? Researchers address 'alarm fatigue' among staff and the rate of false alarms

October 23, 2017
In the ICU, it's uncommon to hear silence—buzzing, beeping, and ringing of alarms area part of the hum of the ICU environment. The Joint Commission attributes many alarm-related incidents and deaths to the "alarm fatigue" ...

Hospital group says 'alarm fatigue' can be deadly

April 8, 2013
(AP)—Constantly beeping alarms in hospitals are being linked to patient deaths and other dangers in a new alert from the Joint Commission.

Device helps ICU patients by filtering out noise from medical alarms

June 21, 2017
A team of investigators at Vanderbilt University Medical Center wants to improve patient outcomes in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) settings by silencing audible medical alarms in hospital rooms.

Recommended for you

Phantom odors: One American in 15 smells odors that aren't there, study finds

August 16, 2018
Imagine the foul smell of an ash tray or burning hair. Now imagine if these kinds of smells were present in your life, but without a source. A new study finds that 1 in 15 Americans (or 6.5 percent) over the age of 40 experiences ...

US drug overdose deaths surge amid fentanyl scourge

August 16, 2018
US drug overdose deaths surged to nearly 72,000 last year, as addicts increasingly turn to extremely powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as the supply of prescription painkillers has tightened.

Parental life span predicts daughters living to 90 without chronic disease or disability

August 15, 2018
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that women whose mothers lived to at least age 90 were more likely to also live to 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities.

Widespread declines in life expectancy across high income countries coincide with rising young adult, midlife mortality

August 15, 2018
The ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States is a key contributor to the most recent declines in life expectancy, suggests a study published by The BMJ today.

Diets high in vegetables and fish may lower risk of multiple sclerosis

August 15, 2018
People who consume a diet high in vegetables and fish may have a reduced risk of multiple sclerosis, new research led by Curtin University has found.

Can sleeping too much lead to an early death?

August 15, 2018
A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association has led to headlines that will make you rethink your Saturday morning sleep in.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.