Noisy Hospital Rooms Do More Than Keep Patients From a Good Night Sleep

Anyone who has ever spent a night in a hospital, nursing home or rehab facility as an admitted patient knows that it is the last place on earth to get a good night’s sleep. Monitors and alarms sound-off at all hours; as well as the occasional screaming patient. Nurses often wake patients up in the middle of the night or during naps for non-urgent, routine blood draws or to take vital signs that could easily be postponed a few hours in favor of allowing the patient to get more sleep.

A World Health Organization (WHO) study shows the noise range in the average hospital can be as high as 67 dB in intensive care unit down to to 42 dB in surgical wards. WHO’s official recommendation is that noise should not exceed 30 dB for patient rooms.

Everyone agrees that sleep is essential for recovery and well being. Now it is time that hospitals start doing something about it.

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Dr. Orfeu Bruxton, a Harvard Medical School professor of sleep medicine, recently published a study in the The Annals of Internal Medicine that posed some serious solutions. He found sounds during sleep influence both brain and cardiovascular functions. He encourages hospitals to improve their acoustic environments in order to provided the highest quality of medical care.

Not surprisingly, companies that make medical devices have begun developing sleep friendly products. These new products are designed to change the way alarms and nursing call systems work in hospitals. The goal is to utilize wireless technology that will send warnings directly to the nurse or doctor responsible for the patient rather than disturb an entire floor. As a Florida lawyer who sues hospitals I am concerned that this new technology might pose additional patient risk if the hospital’s wireless system goes down. I urge hospitals who are considering this kind of technological investment to create back-up systems.

I am most impressed with Stanford University Hospital’s new policy called “Shhhhhh” designed to keep things quiet in patient units. The project urges nurses and staff to keep things quiet at night using soft voices and light steps to protect patient sleep patterns.

As a Miami attorney who sues nursing homes, I hope that more Florida healthcare facilities will create noise reduction teams to look at the kinds of hospital noises that could be realistically eliminated to improve patient care and recovery.

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