Hospital Noise Levels On the Rise

Loud environments stress patients and staff, researchers say

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MONDAY, Nov. 28, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- One of the biggest complaints from both hospital patients and staff: noise. But a new study finds little is being done to keep decibel levels down.

The Johns Hopkins University study found that noise levels in hospitals around the world have steadily increased over the previous five years. Noise not only disturbs patients and hospital staff, but also increases the risk of medical errors and hinders efforts to modernize hospitals with speech-recognition computer systems, the researchers said.

They also cited previous research that suggested that excessive noise may slow patients' rates of healing and contribute to staff stress and burnout.

This study found that since 1960, average daytime hospital sound levels have risen from 57 decibels to 72 decibels and average nighttime sound levels have increased from 42 decibels to 60 decibels. The World Health Organization's hospital noise guidelines suggest that sound levels in patients' rooms should not exceed 35 decibels.

Much of the noise in hospitals is also in the same frequency range as human speech. This can make talking difficult, forcing nurses and doctors and other staff to speak even louder to be heard, which further increases noise levels, the researchers said.

The study was presented at a recent meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

There are few scientific studies of hospital noise and most have been conducted by hospital personnel, not acoustical engineers, the Hopkins researchers noted.

"That told us this problem was important enough that the doctors and nurses were willing to step outside their comfort zone to make some noise measurements, even though they didn't always know how to analyze the data correctly," study co-author Ilene Busch-Vishniac said in a prepared statement.

More information

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations offers advice on choosing a hospital.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University, news release, Nov 21, 2005

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