Hospital Quiet by striatic  / hobvias sudoneighm, via Flickr

First Steps - Quiet by striatic / hobvias sudoneighm, via Flickr.

By Sylvia Foley, senior editor

Like many city dwellers, I often find myself battling excessive noise. My apartment is across the street from a large city park, and although I’m grateful for the greenery, in the summer my neighbors and I have to contend with the outsize noise from bandshell concerts, impromptu sidewalk parties, and ramped-up car stereos.  Frequent construction projects and an unrepentantly loud neighbor often add to this racket.  It’s caused me to lose sleep, jacked up my blood pressure, and messed with my concentration.  Indeed, when I was hospitalized with pneumonia briefly a while back, I actually found the quiet of the hospital a balm. Turns out I was lucky in that regard.

Hospitals are often noisy places.  In this month’s Patients First column, authors Kimberly N. Montague and colleagues examine the “near-constant din created by equipment, hallway traffic, and conversation” that’s common in many hospitals. They point out that studies with adult patients have linked excessive noise to sleep disturbance and  to increased blood pressure, heart rate, and stress; it also interferes with patients’ auditory (“speech”) privacy.  And patients aren’t the only ones adversely affected.  High noise levels have also been associated with increased stress, fatigue, and burnout in nurses and other health care workers. In short, everyone suffers.

So what can be done? Montague and colleagues spotlight one hospital’s renovation of a combined medical–surgical and pediatrics unit, aimed at creating a calmer, quieter environment. Hospital staff and community members were involved during the planning stage, and many of their suggestions were implemented; so far the response has been favorable. The authors also outline several noise-reduction strategies, including some as simple as conducting shift-change reports behind closed doors.  For your sake as well as your patients’, check out this month’s Patients First  to learn more about what you can do.

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