Let's face it. Hospitals are not exactly a relaxing place to be.
For patients or healthcare professionals.
In recent years, there's been a movement to make hospital décor warmer. The same thing is happening now in an effort to reduce noise pollution.
Noise in hospitals can impact sleep, which is vital for patients' recovery. Not enough sleep can cause delirium and other serious consequences.
Sounds that can trigger apprehension can increase the need for restraints, more pain medication, and frequent nursing assistance calls, Susan E. Mazer, Ph.D., president, CEO, and co-founder of Nevada-based Healing HealthCare Systems, Inc., wrote in a 2014 report.
Her company produces visual and auditory relaxation programs for medical facilities.
"The auditory environment must exemplify the highest and most compassionate standards of patient care," she wrote.
This is why it is important to set equipment and technology sound standards as well as create an acoustically acceptable environment.
Noise hampers healing and sanity
Noise may not be the first thing hospitals think of when they consider improvements, but some experts say there is definitely a need to do so.
Nighttime noise levels above 55 decibels can disturb sleep and even boost heart disease risk, so hospitals should be at 30 or below, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
Noise levels have been reported at more than 100 decibels at night in some facilities, the Mayo Clinic reported. Alarm fatigue has been known to impact patients and staff.
"There is strong evidence that hospitals are getting noisier each year with the introduction of new technologies, and that noise contributes to stress by patients, families, and staff," Craig Zimring, Ph.D., director of the SimTigrate Design Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
In 2010, he co-authored an article in Healthcare Design detailing the obstacles hospitals face in developing a good soundscape.
They refer to the soundscape or acoustical environment because that encompasses more than reducing noise. It includes providing pleasing or distracting sounds, and creating environments for talking in privacy.
Creating calm in hospitals
Alan Manning, executive vice president of the Connecticut-based health care consulting organization Planetree Inc., said creating better sound environments involves innovating technology and settings, improving internal workflows, and aiming to create peace of mind.
For instance, rooms now have windows in doors so nurses can see into the rooms instead of interrupting patients.
They are also looking at routines more closely so as not to disrupt patients needlessly. Quieter equipment can be produced, and nurses may soon be donning wearables to alert them to patients' needs instead of interrupting the patients.
In New York, an outpatient surgery center gives patients, family, and staff badges with GPS trackers, so movements -- such as when a patient is out of surgery or a doctor is needed -- do not have to be announced on a loudspeaker.
"We need to challenge convention and habits and pragmatically reconstruct care delivery to allow patients to rest," Manning told Healthline.
He said that efforts to upgrade existing facilities or build new ones are not just to reduce noise but improve the standard of care and patient experience -- something worth investing in. The spending just needs to be done mindfully, he said.
"I think it's important that hospitals don't get caught up in an arms race where they try to out-build each other, and instead create innovative solutions for old problems," Manning said.
By Kristen Fischer