Along with pain and various sorts of illnesses, hospital patients constantly battle with something doctors can't really cure - noise.

Noise has always been a complaint of patients trying to get rest and sleep while recovering at the hospital. To make hospitals quieter, scientists are trying to devise ways to reduce the amount of noise which is actually doubled where it should be less.

In a pilot study by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System tested how much quieter a hospital can get using sound panels specifically designed to keep the volume down. Findings were published in the online journal BMJ Quality & Safety.

"In hospital environments where noise levels are often double what they should be according to the World Health Organization's standard decibel guidelines for patient rooms, the difference is significant," said University of Michigan's Majtaba Navvab PhD, architecture and design associate professor at the University's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

In partnership with the University's Architecture, Engineering and Construction responsible for the planning of three University campuses, Navvab is conducting research on acoustics. The associate professor for architecture and design's noise reduction study is also in collaboration with Peter M. Farrehi, M.D. and Brahmajee K. Nallamothu, M.D.

Sound and acoustic panels strategically placed around patient rooms and in hallways diffused sound and brought it down to 3-4 decibels. The drop is similar to noise when a car slows down from 80 mph to 60 mph - recognizable to a human ear.

For three days, four acoustic panels were installed strategically in the ceilings and walls of a cardiovascular care unit. The custom panels were covered in cones and made with material that absorbs sound.

During daytime, sound levels were measured at 60 decibels. However, the study recorded 57 decibels in the hallways where the sound panels were installed.

"This architectural design could complement on-going strategies for addressing noise," said U-M Health System cardiologist Farrehi, who is also the lead author of the study. The panels diffuse the sound created in a modern hospital environment instead of attempting to eliminate it.

In their study, the researchers highlight how noise not only makes patients unhappy, but also causes rising blood pressures and interference in pain management and wound healing.

The national Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) ranks hospital noise low, affecting hospital reimbursement and highlighting dissatisfied patients.

Photo: Bradley Gordon | Flickr

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