Noise Pollution in Hospitals and its Impacts on the Health Care Community and Patients

Olivia C Coiado –
Twitter: @oliviacoiado
Instagram: @oliviacoiado

Department of Biomedical and Translational Sciences, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, Department of Bioengineering, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, 61801, United States

Erasmo F. Vergara
Laboratory of Vibration and Acoustics, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, SC, Brazil.

Lizandra G. Lupi Vergara
Laboratory of Ergonomics, Department of Production and Systems Engineering, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, SC, Brazil.

Popular version of 3pNS4-Noise Pollution in Hospitals and its Impacts on the Health Care Community and Patients, presented at the 183rd ASA Meeting.

If you ever had to be hospitalized in your life, you probably know that spending a night in a hospital room and getting some sleep is almost an impossible mission! Why? Noise in hospitals is a common problem for patients, families and teams of professionals and employees. Most of a hospital’s environment is affected by the sounds of equipment and machines with high sound pressure levels (SPL) or “noise”.
What can we do?

Fig 1: Sound pressure meter positioned in front of the reception desk in Brazil.

We used a sound pressure meter (Fig. 1) to record noise of medical equipment such as machines, medical devices, tools, alarms used in the medical activities in hospitals in Brazil and in the United States. SPLs inside hospitals may have high average values, higher than 60 decibels (dB), with peak SPL values of 100 dB and may not meet the international requirements. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that the average SPL in hospitals should be around 35 dB during the day and 30 dB at night. SPLs above 65 dB can cause behavioral disorders and affect the quality of sleep and cause changes in the physiological responses to stress in hospitalized patients. High noise levels exceeding 55 dB can affect both patients and staff. The noise effects can cause memory lapses and mental exhaustion in performing tasks, exposing technical and support teams to risks, accidents and errors in the performance of their work. For instance, a plane taking off (Fig. 2) can reach up to 100 dB and a noisy hospital environment can reach up to 70 dB, more than double of the noise recommended by the WHO!

Figure 2: Image adapted from Bayo, Garcia and Garcia 1989.

Our research considered both quantitative aspects, through numerical and qualitative descriptors (subjective and psychological assessment of patients, medical staff, employees, etc.), to assess noise pollution in hospitals. Our model analyzed the relationship between the acoustic characteristics of the environment and people’s sound perception.
We interviewed 47 people in a Brazilian Hospital, the responses were collected from nurses, nursing assistants, doctors, and other staff members. 60% of the participants responded that they needed to speak louder and felt discomfort with the noise in the work environment, 57% said they felt discomfort with the noise coming from the medical equipment, 72% of the participants said the work environment is moderately or very noisy. The next phase of our research is to repeat the same measurements in a United Stated Hospital and compare the results. Then we can make a reflection, what can we do to reduce the effects of noise pollution in hospitals? How to reduce the noise coming from medical equipment? Our “dream” is to provide a more comfortable environment for patients and the health community. Hoping they can finally get a good night of sleep in Brazil in the U.S or any other hospital in the world.