Photo credit: This photo by Navy Medicine is in the public domain

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

That hospital noise is a problem for both patients and health care providers has been noted in several posts on The Quiet Coalition site. Furthermore, suggestions to lessen these noises have been written about as well, including Sound & Vibration 2.0: Design Guidelines for Health Care Facilities by David Sykes and his associates. Yet, we continue to hear calls that not enough has been done to reduce noise in hospitals. Reducing noise in hospitals at this time with the growing number of patients being admitted because of the pandemic is undoubtedly more difficult. But the call to lower the sound level should be even greater and this article in Intensive Care Medical Experimental should provide more support for this statement.

Intensive care units have been identified as being especially noisy. Having visited patients in ICUs, I can attest to hearing the alarms going off all the time. I have also engaged in conversations with nurses as to how bothersome these sounds are. But bothersome does not adequately describe the response to these ICU sounds. According to the study by Katia Erne, et al., cited in the Intensive Care Medical Experimental article, ICU sounds may actually lead to a “reduction in cognitive abilities” of hospital staff and this in turn may affect staff performance. While the authors of this study suggest further research is needed to confirm their findings, especially since their study was done in a laboratory study with other factors not considered, they still recommend reducing ICU noise.

We know that noise can lead to stress which can then adversely impact on our health and studies have found that noise intrudes on cognition and learning. Thus, it should be no surprise that the disruptive ICU sounds may adversely affect the performance of health care professionals.