What do hospitals and construction sites have in common?
Research into hospital noise has found facilities producing uncomfortable levels of sound in emergency departments (EDs), with the noise having the potential to affect patients and staff.
The study by Corey Adams, a Registered Nurse and Clinical Research Officer, Australian Institute of Health Innovation (AIHI) at Macquarie University, examined the noise levels in the ED of a major metropolitan public hospital over a 24-hour period.
Measuring noise levels in six locations inside the ED they concluded that the hospital consistently exceeded noise level recommendations from the World Health Organization.
The ambulance bay’s highest peak level was recorded at 102.81 decibels, found to be equivalent to the noise level on a construction site, while the ED waiting area peaked three decibels lower at 99.6. Noise levels in all six areas were consistently high, averaging 60.01 decibels and 59.4 decibels in the two treatment rooms and 59.96 decibels in the waiting room.
The study says the average person is likely to find a noise level of 70 decibels unpleasant, and hearing protection is required for prolonged exposure over 85 decibels.
“Noise pollution in hospitals in more than an issue of comfort. This is about healthcare safety,” Adams said.
Research has linked noise to patient and staff wellbeing, noting that exposure to high noise levels can result in raised heart rate and blood pressure, and an increase in stress and anxiety. Psychologically, patients link loud noise to a perception of worsening health, impacting their care. Long working hours for staff coupled with high noise intake also contributes to workplace stress and burnout, according to Adams.
“Noise can also cause difficulty in concentrating, a reduced ability to make quick decisions and impaired communication, all of which can have serious implications for patient care,” Adams said.
Adams suggested the biggest source of this noise is people-related in addition to hospital equipment.
“If you think about the ED environment, multiple conversations are taking place, people are in pain, patients and their loved ones are stressed and upset, and people are making phone calls and talking about their health issues with clinicians,” he said.
“In addition to this, people naturally respond to noisy environments by raising the volume of their own voices as they try to make themselves heard. This creates a negative and perpetuating cycle which further increases noise levels in the hospital.”
The study claims that small changes in noise levels can produce visible results, claiming a 10-decibel drop can mean a 50% reduction in the amount of perceived noise.
“We need to remember that hospitals are not just places to receive treatment,” Adams said. “They are also therapeutic spaces for people to recover. Patients need adequate rest and sleep during their hospital stay because it is essential for their health and safety.”
Adams believes there are steps that hospitals can take to reduce noise disruptions, such as addressing slamming doors and providing earplugs to patients.
The findings by Adams and the institute have been published as part of the July edition of Australasian Emergency Care.
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