Old News: Noise in Hospitals Disturbs Patients

If you’ve ever been a patient in a hospital, you know that hospitals are not where you go to rest. And if you happen to have a room next to a nursing station or the entry to the unit or floor,  you’re even worse off because of all the noise.

Even as a young nurse, I was aware that noise was an issue, particularly during the night shifts. I tried to speak at a lower level and not move around the rooms as much if I could avoid it. But, patient care still needed to be done and I found myself often waking patients so I could do certain procedures or give medications. I would feel so bad for the patients who had just finally fallen asleep, only to have me wake them up.

I had my three children at the same hospital, and the first two times, I was placed in a room right across from the nursing station. That experience opened my eyes. I got no rest. People were constantly walking past my room, rolling noisy carts and chatting with others. Some people would be calling up the hallway to colleagues as they asked or answered questions. The phone would ring all day long and staff members of all stripes would gather at the station, particularly at the change of shift. It was N.O.I.S.Y. Even with the door closed, I was disturbed. Night time was quieter, but there was still chatter and the noise of all the call bells that would go off all night long. It was anything but restful. I lucked out with my third child though – I was given the last room at the end of the hall. It was so quiet, it was like I was in a different place altogether.

The thing is, we already know that hospitals aren’t restful places and that they’re noisy. Researchers have been studying this – although they really just needed to speak to some patients to find out. But at least now, they’re taking the noise seriously. There was a study presented at a conference earlier this month, showing how loud an intensive care unit can be, Quiet please in the intensive care unit! As a former ICU nurse, I could relate.

What does this all mean? It’s hard to say. Patients are limited in power. They could ask to have doors closed, but they can’t do anything about the alarms and the need for healthcare staff to communicate with each other in the halls. They also can’t do anything about room placements or if they are near a hub of activity.

Hopefully continued research like this ICU one may change some policies – changing how alarms are used and instituting quiet times, when noisy activities stop and patients are encouraged to rest are a good start. Some facilities are already doing this. We know we need sleep to heal, to get better. The thing is figuring out how to provide it in the hospital environment.

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