Thursday, June 13, 2013

Noise is an Issue for Hospitals

Hospitals are noisy places. Monitor beeps, staff conversations, medication alarms, and other noises contribute to a constant cacophony of sounds that a patient hears through day and night. Hospitals have previously worked on reducing noise, but the push now comes with added urgency due to new Medicaid policies that allows adjusted or reduced reimbursement rates based on criteria that includes patient ratings on quality of care. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the latest data from [Medicaid] for the year ended in June 2012 shows that only 60% of patients said the area outside their room was quiet at night, representing the lowest satisfaction score among 27 questions about the hospital experience.”

A “State of Patient Experience” report released in April by the Beryl Institute, a nonprofit that helps hospitals improve patient satisfaction, showed that hospital administrators ranked noise reduction as their top priority for the second time since the last report in 2011. While they share a common goal, different hospitals have different methods of working towards it.

Some hospitals are utilizing stoplight like devices that turn yellow and red with elevating noise levels. Other hospitals are expanding the number of private rooms, or providing patients with “quiet kits” that include earplugs, headphones for TVs, and other devices. Doctors and nurses are seeing change as well; some hospitals are switching to wireless headsets instead of loudspeaker pages or walkie –talkies instead of beepers. A lot of hospitals are looking at installing white noise machines to counteract exterior noise, although one study suggested that they have no effect on patient perception of noise levels.

The barrage of noises may not only be a problem for patients. In April, NAHAM News reported a warning from the Joint Commission regarding alarm fatigue, when a doctor of nurse tunes out potentially important patient alarms due to noise overload. That article can be read here.  

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