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Hospitals of the future will sound different … and that’s a good thing

roup of medical staff at hospital, doctors team standing together
No one thinks of a hospital as a relaxing getaway. In fact, one of the most common complaints people have about hospitals is about the noise level. With changes to design and new technologies, all that may be about to change.

A 2005 study found that the nighttime noise level in a hospital averages about 60 decibels — levels over 55 decibels can disrupt sleep. In fact, some hospitals had noise levels at 100 decibels, which is equal to the sound of a running chainsaw. Lack of sleep isn’t exactly conducive to rapid healing.

One of the irritating sounds that comes to mind when we think about hospitals is the incessant beeping of monitors and alarms. A study showed that approximately 85-99 percent of all hospital alarms are essentially unnecessary and don’t require any intervention by medical staff. In addition to just being loud and annoying, the constant beeping can also desensitize the staff, making it less likely they would respond in the case of an actual emergency.

By reducing the number of the alarms, hospitals can begin to reduce the loud noises disrupting the patients. The other technique that hospitals are starting to use is wearables for nurses, so they can monitor their patients without all the audible prompts.

In addition to just alarms, the biggest noise complaint that patients had was hearing the sounds of other people in distress or pain. While there is no easy fix for that, hospitals are working toward having more private rooms for patients to help eliminate the outside noises.

Eliminating all sounds isn’t the goal either. Creating a completely silent environment makes all unexpected noises loud and jarring when they occur. Also, since every person perceives sounds differently, what is loud for one person may not bother another. The ideal solution would be for people to be able to adjust their sounds level individually through white noise and soundscapes.

Hospitals continue to make improvements for the comfort of their patients. The goal isn’t to cover up the the hospital and the inevitable sounds of suffering. Instead it is to use sound to create a more relaxed and healing environment.

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