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12 April 2017

Consequences of poor acoustics in hospitals

Already facing stressful and demanding jobs, bad acoustics can have a critical impact on health care professionals.

Busy environments are bound to be noisy, and hospitals are no exception. Before the technological innovation that is rampant in modern hospitals, they were once renowned for their quiet and serene environments, both inside the hospital and out.

Much removed from the days where noise restrictions were ardently enforced, it has now been observed that continued exposure to noise in hospitals has negative consequences on both patients and staff.

The challenges of acoustics in hospitals

Noise is “an audible acoustic energy that adversely affects the physiological or psychological well-being of people,” according to Erica Ryherd, Ph.D., author and associate professor in The Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

With the mounting scientific evidence around the negative effects of acoustics, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that noise not exceed more than 30 dBA and 35 dBA in hospital wards and or treatment wings, respectively. A-weighted decibels, or dBA, are an expression of the relative loudness of sounds as perceived by the human ear.



THE RECOMMENDED NOISE LEVEL
IN PATIENT WARDS IS 30 DBA ...
... THE REALITY CAN BE AS HIGH AS
85 DBA 16X PER HOUR



Noisy sounds in hospitals have been steadily rising since the 1960s. Unfortunately, most hospitals cannot maintain the WHO-defined acceptable level of noise to create quite patient wards. In fact, Jonathan D. Katz, M.D., Department of Anesthesiology, Yale University School of Medicine, observed that operating rooms can be as noisy as a busy highway.

Sources of noise in an operating room

Noise in operating rooms is caused by a mixture of equipment, personnel and related responsibilities, which can reach levels of 120 dBA, equivalent to a jet aircraft. The high noise levels in operating rooms can have an effect on one’s physical and mental well-being, speech intelligibility and work performance.

Four adverse effects of excessive noise in operating rooms include:

1   Physical health – Continuous contact to noise, even as low as 75 dBA, can negatively impact health, both in the short- and long-term. Common side effects attributed to excessive exposure to noise are hearing loss, increase in heart rate and high blood pressure.

2   Mental well-being – Excessive noise can impair cognitive abilities, impeding motor skills, intellectual function and the ability of complex analysis.

3   Speech intelligibility – A common result of noise in operating rooms is communication interference and is a leading cause of poor outcomes from operations.

4   Work performance – Due to the consequence of noise on mental well-being, it can increase the difficulty of processing information and preforming complex tasks.

Already facing stressful and demanding jobs, real attention should be given to reducing the harmful effects of noise in operating rooms. According to Katz, the use of non-noise reflective materials in rooms, including the walls and ceiling surfaces, would reduce echoes and reverberation of inescapable noise.






Sources:
Ryherd, E., Okcu, S., Zimring, C., Ackerman, J. and Persson Waye, K.; “Noise pollution in hospitals: Impacts on staff,” Journal of Clinical Outcomes Management, 19(11), 491–500 (2012); http://ww.w.turner-white.com/pdf/jcom_jul12_noise.pdf

Berglund, B., Lindvall, T. and Schwela, T.; “Guidelines For Community Noise,” Geneva: World Health Organization; 1999; http://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/66217

Katz, J. D.; “Noise in the Operating Room,” The Journal of The American Society of Anesthesiologists, Inc.; 2014; http://anesthesiology.pubs.asahq.org/article.aspx?articleid=1921569


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