Sonicu's blog 

Tech, tips, news & thoughts on automated wireless

monitoring and the Internet of Things.



Reducing hospital noise is sound practice

Posted by Jim Mayfield on Aug 16, 2016 2:07:36 PM





For hospitals throughout the country, reducing hospital noise is becoming a priority for health care administrators.

If it’s not, it should be.

For several years, evidence continues to show that hospitals are not quiet places. Places of healing, yes; seabeds of tranquility, no. But why is Gandhi smiling?

Reducing hospital noise - a work in progress

As far back as 2005, a noise survey at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital studied equivalent sound pressure levels – generally speaking, defined as the average noise level - as a function of location, frequency and time of day.

The findings were far less than favorable.

“At all locations and all times of day, the (sound levels) indicate that a serious problem exists,” the study concluded. “No location is in compliance with current World Health Organization Guidelines, and a review of objective data indicates that this is true of hospitals throughout the world.” (Emphasis added.)

Though WHO’s 30-decibel average full-time noise level sets the bar even higher than that hung by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends a maximum acceptable level of 45 decibels for preterm infants, there’s still a strong argument that hospitals are too loud.

In 2012, researchers from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine evaluated inpatient sleep quality of 106 patients between April 2010 and May 2011.

The peak noise level recorded during the course of the study spiked to 80 decibels, rivaling the sound of a chain saw.

A chain saw. In a hospital. At night. Gandhi knows: Finding silence is the only path to reducing hospital noise.

Many patients reported sleeping significantly less than normal during their hospital stays, and some 42 percent said they were roused out of what sleep they were getting by hospital noise.

The results of all this noise are poor: Poor patient outcomes. Poor patient satisfaction. Poor staff performance. Poor Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey results. Poor Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.

According to, the April/May 2016 Public Report analyzing hospital discharges from July 2014 to June 2015 shows quietness of the hospital environment continuing to rank 11 out of 12 in garnering “average top box” or most positive response scores throughout the country.

For fiscal year 2015, sub-par HCAHPS scores and corresponding rankings will cost hospitals 1.5 percent of their overall Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements for patient care. By fiscal year 2017, that deduction will rise to a potential 2 percent.

Hospital noise monitoring – a simple solution

The Pritzker study authors came to a singular conclusion after looking at the issue of noise and its effects on the inpatient experience.

“Hospitals should implement interventions to reduce nighttime noise levels in an effort to improve patient sleep, which may also improve patient satisfaction and health outcomes.”

A simple, effective intervention in the effort toward hospital noise reduction is a sound monitoring system coupled with reporting tools that allow administrators to assess, manage and improve, and then monitor hospital noise levels at any time and location.

Reducing hospital noise starts by understanding where the offending noise is coming from and what’s causing it. Effective hospital noise monitoring arms administrators with hard data on sound events as opposed to speculation and opinion.

Once noise sources are identified, managers can then utilize daily sound reports to implement and manage improvement strategies for realistic change – change that can be monitored and adjusted for better outcomes into the future.

While some hospital noise reductions efforts involve different “colors” of sound, ear plugs, quiet kits and acoustic embellishments, Mahatma Gandhi may have driven to the heart of the matter years ago, when he said: “Noise does not cancel out noise; silence does.”

Hospitals are listening. Find out which ones here.

Topics: Reducing hospital noise