Noise in Hospitals: Effects and Cures
West, James E.
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Noise in hospitals is a significant problem that is generally getting worse, even in new construction. High noise levels in hospitals can potentially contribute to stress and burnout in hospital staff, reduced speed of patient wound healing, and there is legitimate concern that hospital noise can negatively affect speech communication and cause an increased number of medical errors. There are several interesting issues that impact hospital noise. Since 1960, there has been a clear trend for rising hospital noise levels. The situation has been worsening steadily. Also, none of the published results show compliance with established standards for hospital noise. For example, the World Health Organization suggests different noise levels during daytime and nighttime that are commensurate with health promotion. In addition, there is remarkably little variation throughout the world for noise levels in different types of hospitals, from major research facilities to smaller community hospitals. This suggests that the problem of hospital noise is universal, and that noise control techniques might also be expected to be applied broadly. Conventional acoustical treatments are used sparingly in hospitals because it is believed that sound absorbing materials with pores harbor bacteria. Instead, smooth, hard, flat surfaces are used because they are easy to clean. Consequently, these surfaces are acoustically reflective and serve to aggravate existing noise problems. Any acoustical treatments in hospitals not only face great noise abatement challenges, but must also meet the most stringent hygienic standards. At Johns Hopkins University Hospital, we are collaborating with industry to develop new materials.