11/02/2016 11:47 EDT | Updated 11/02/2016 11:49 EDT

Reducing Hospital Noise Can Improve Patient Care And Health

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Senior woman lying in icu

New hospitals are focusing on noise control to help promote a healing environment

Noise surrounds us. It is not always bad noise; it is a result of economic growth and progress. Cell phones, portable music players and digital devices can deliver sound to your ear at any time. While technology has made life easier in many aspects, the ongoing noise by-products can be disruptive. Ringers, reminders and notifications can add up over the day.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates noise pollution costs one million years of healthy life every year in Europe alone and the EU calculates the financial cost of more than 40 billion Euros a year in terms of lost working days, health-care costs, impaired learning and reduced productivity.

Those numbers are alarming. And while some have identified the need for noise, there is also a need to control it. This is particularly true in a hospital setting. Excessive noise in a health-care environment is not just annoying but studies have shown that it adversely affects patient healing. A U.S. study found the average noise level in hospital wards to be close to 95 decibels -- 10 decibels beyond the noise level at which U.S. federal law requires ear protection for prolonged exposure.

From announcements over the PA to voices of visitors and other patients to the noises made by monitors and diagnostic equipment, hospital noise can become a cacophony quickly. The goal is to strike a balance between technology and noise so that the patient receives the best care thanks to innovation without sacrificing the patient healing process.

It is impossible to eliminate all noise from any environment but minimizing the amount generated has benefits.

Humber River Hospital (HRH) recently opened in Etobicoke, Ontario and is a fully digital hospital. While the architects and designers made sure the hospital was equipped with the latest technology to provide the best care, they also worked to limit the noise within the hospital so patients could recover in a quiet environment. The blend delivers a hospital focused on patient care.

Here are five ways the Humber River Hospital is reducing noise levels:

  • Personalized devices: Each health care practitioner and staff member receives a personal device for work. This means they only get information that is relevant to their position and work. It means communication is more direct with less relaying of information between practitioners. By streamlining information delivery, the noise related to communications was reduced.

  • Eliminating the overhead announcement: Traditional public address systems deliver the same information to everyone near a speaker. Under the old system, all code alerts would be broadcast over a floor in order to reach the right people. With their own PDs, staff receive code alerts directly and have to acknowledge or it will be escalated.

  • Updating the nurse-call button: A patient pressing a call button to get a nurse seems like a simple request but it can cause a lot of noise. The call usually goes into a central desk and then the information is relayed to the nurse responsible for a patient. At HRH, the nurse receives the call directly and provides a response directly to the patient.

  • Private rooms include family: Most of the rooms (80 per cent) at HRH are private and include an area for family to visit. The family room is located on the outside wall of the room so it does not interfere with health care practitioners working and doesn't disturb neighbouring rooms. Now family members can be with their loved one without disrupting care and others.

  • Solid construction: The HRH may be located near Highway 401 but the exterior wall assembly is precast concrete to help control the noise. The traditional HVAC 'hum' is managed by having the equipment in the ceiling above the corridor to keep it away from patient rooms. Details like quiet door latches and silent sliders also keep the noise to a minimum. By planning a hospital to consider noise, it can create an environment that promotes quicker healing.

It is impossible to eliminate all noise from any environment but minimizing the amount generated has benefits. While most people associate hospitals with quiet, the health-care system can create a lot of different sounds that disturb patients. Reducing noise in hospitals will improve patient care and help the healing process.

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