Healthcare News & Insights

Quiet down! Lower noise levels positively impact critical care patients

High noise levels might be good for a concert or baseball game, but they’re not conducive to a healing hospital environment. The constant humming and droning of machines, the chatter of nurses and family members, and even the soap operas on patient TVs can all impact patients’ recovery. 

We know it’s hard for many hospitals to adequately reduce noise, in part due to all the conversations that must take place while caring for patients, along with the required alarms and other machinery sounds.

But making the effort to bring the volume down can have a positive effect on patients, family members and employees at your organization.

And a recent study shows that even small changes can make a big impact on hospital noise levels.

The study, “Quiet Time: A Noise Reduction Initiative in a Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit,” which was published in Critical Care Nurse, lays out noise-reducing initiatives implemented by unit nurses at North Shore University Hospital in New York.

Noise reduction

The main change was the addition of two designated quiet periods each day, one from 3 to 5 a.m. and one from 3 to 5 p.m. During those quiet times, lights were dimmed, whispering was encouraged and environmental noise was reduced or eliminated as much as possible, according to a news release from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

Some of the specific methods used to reduce noise and increase patient comfort during quiet times in the unit were:

  • eliminating overhead paging
  • shifting the start of daily teaching rounds so they’d be completed before 3 p.m.
  • adjusting the schedules of physical and occupational therapists to visit patients before quiet time started
  • encouraging staff to prioritize loud or disruptive tasks, such as taking vital signs or administering routine medications, before or after quiet times
  • putting signage on each patient’s door and at unit entrances explaining what and when quiet times were, and
  • providing hospitality bags with earplugs and sleep masks to each patient.

The unit also upgraded patient rooms and the central nursing station with smart monitors, which helped cut down on unnecessary alarms. If smart monitors aren’t possible at your hospital, unit leaders may want to at least look at alarm requirements and adjust them to decrease the use of unnecessary alarms.

Tangible results

These changes were shown to reduce peak noise levels by 10 to 15 decibels in some areas after six months.

The study also identified areas where there was room for improvement. Two main areas were the installation of push-plate automatic opening functions at doors to the unit to allow easier and quieter access, and identifying a different time and location for providers to hold teaching sessions.

Even implementing a few of these methods at your facility could improve your patients’ experiences and help you provide better care.

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