Silencing the machines that go ping

4 minute read

Or at least turning the bloody volume down.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I can get exceedingly cranky about noise when I’m trying to think.  

For example, right now, the Met Gala red carpet broadcast is playing in the room next door to me and the voice pitch of the self-starving YouTuber in the hideous beige body-hugger covered in glued-on flowers is giving me a headache the likes of which would stop a bull elephant. 

So, thank goodness I’m not in hospital trying to recover from some dire illness or injury. 

Last time I was in a hospital environment I was sitting next to my mother’s bedside in a public hospital orthopaedic ward filled with dementia patients – there’s a whole column in that one, folks – watching a nurse at one end and a physiotherapist at the other bellowing instructions to each other.  

I could only think “INSIDE VOICES PLEASE”, so God only knows what the dear demented were thinking. 

Noise, it turns out, is not only disruptive but, according to new research out of WA, published in Health Environments Research and Design, it can delay recovery or even actively hamper it. 

According to the researchers from Edith Cowan University up to 50% of patients in ICUs experience sleep disturbance due to noise. 

“In the ICU there are a lot of beeps and alarms from machines and some of that noise can’t be mitigated because of the important information provided for clinicians,” said Dr Emil Jonescu from ECU.  

“Our aim was to try and find the optimal balance of good information flow for clinicians and rest and recovery for patients, and we found there are certainly some design improvements that can be made.” 

ECU teamed up with the Fiona Stanley Hospital ICU to investigate the impact of noise on patient sleep quality and clinician performance and provide practical recommendations for design approaches to noise mitigation.  

The room acoustics analysis revealed that at times maximum noise levels in the ICU ranged from 60 to 90 dB(A), surpassing the thresholds for sleep disruption outlined by the World Health Organisation guidelines.  

Dr Jonescu said noise was primarily caused by alarms from medical equipment and discussions among clinical staff and was a common problem across all ICUs. 

Part of the study investigated health professionals’ perceptions of noise impact on patient sleep and staff duties in the ICU. Staff reported ICU noise negatively impacted their work performance, patient connection and job satisfaction.  

“They indicated that their biggest concern was the impact to patient sleep quality, however, they also believe a quieter ICU would improve clinicians’ thinking ability,” Dr Jonescu said.  

“ICU clinicians and patients share the same environment and it’s clear that improvements in noise levels will benefit everyone.” 

Through a 3D modelling process, researchers simulated various acoustic treatment upgrades. They found that room layout and equipment precluded many noise reduction options. These were limited to perimeter surface sound absorption, whereas direct transmission pathways, and volume settings offered potential for more significant noise reductions. 

“One of the most significant findings of the study was that by concentrating on noise reduction strategies for the partition walls between patient rooms, transference of noise from room to room can be significantly reduced,” Dr Jonescu said.  

“The findings showed a significant reduction of 14 decibels with the doors between rooms in the open position.” 

The only time I’ve been a patient in an ICU was one of those post-operative precautionary things, and I basically ended up in the storeroom down the end because I was not so critically ill. 

Slept like a baby.  

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