Healthcare News & Insights

Noise control: How hospitals are keeping patients happy and healthy

Sure, you work in a hospital, but have you ever spent the night in one as a patient or the family member of a patient? If so, then you probably know what gets the worst marks on patient surveys … noise. 151549691

Think about it, you have alarms going off when IVs are empty, monitors beeping, nurses coming in for vital sign checks, people talking on cell phones, TVs, nurses talking, carts being pushed around, etc.

How are patients supposed to get any sleep?

Guess that’s why noise gets the lowest ratings among 27 other factors when patients score their hospital experience. According to Medicare, 2012 data shows only 60% of patients said the area outside their room was quiet at night.

According to The Wall Street Journal, now that Medicare’s using patients’ quality of care ratings as one measurement to determine hospital reimbursement, keeping noise under control has become a priority for many hospitals.

Physical effects

Not only are all these noises aggravating for patients who aren’t at their best to begin with, but they’re detrimental to their physical recovery. Studies have shown that sleep disturbances can impact blood pressure, wound healing and pain management.

That’s why some hospital are getting creative with their approaches to noise reduction.

For example, some hospitals have installed monitors that look like traffic lights. As the noise level rises the light on the monitor changes from yellow to red, letting staff know that the noise level is too high.

Other facilities are installing ambient white-noise machines and sound-absorbing tiles.

Some other ways hospitals are lowering their noise level include:

  • offering “quiet kits” that contain sleep masks, earplugs and crossword puzzles
  • providing TVs with closed-circuit relaxation programming of soothing music and imagery
  • giving patients headsets for TVs and tablets
  • replacing overhead paging systems with wireless headsets
  • giving patients “Do Not Disturb” signs and allowing them to shut their doors, and
  • designating official sleep hours on units where routine vital sign checks aren’t required.

Updates pay off in the end

No matter what changes are made, there will always be noise in hospitals due to the nature of the business. And with many hospitals recognizing the vital role family and friends play in patients’ recovery and extending visiting hours, there’s no way to completely eliminate noise.

However, according to Gary Madaras, director of Making Hospitals Quiet, who was quoted in The Wall Street Journal, hospital execs need to change their thinking from eliminating noise to “increasing the ratio of good sounds to bad noises.” After all, while patients want restful sleep, they also want their caregivers close by in case of an emergency. So a little noise is OK.

But in a time when hospital budgets are already tight and many of these suggestions have price tags, how can facilities afford these changes?

Madaras said a $10,000-to-$50,000 investment over two years can raise patient satisfaction scores enough to bring in $100,000 to $150,000 over three years in additional Medicare payments.

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