Hopkins recently opened a new building constructed for quiet, and Berkowitz says the difference in the new pediatric ICU is stunning. Before, eight children's beds were grouped together in two rooms linked by an opening — the sound of ventilators and machine alarms and conversation all bouncing around the area, he recalls. Now, every patient room is private.
Sound-absorbing materials line ceilings. There's a rubber floor in the neonatal unit. There's no overhead paging — workers' phones vibrate when they're needed.
"People have a sense, I think, of being calmer," Berkowitz says. He doesn't have any medical records to show it, but "my gut sense is that it's better for patients."
Existing hospital buildings, especially those without private rooms, require different techniques. For example, Mass General has posted "quiet hours" in the afternoon and at night on certain wards. The lights are dimmed, patients' room doors are closed wherever possible, overhead paging is minimized, and health workers lower their voices and try not to enter rooms unless it's really necessary, says Rick Evans, the hospital's senior director for service.
In his office sits a gadget that looks like a traffic light, flashing yellow or red when the decibel level gets too high. Evans says the hospital is evaluating whether to start using some type of noise sensor for further help.
Until hospitals dampen more noise, Ellenbogen advises families to advocate for quiet:
—If an IV alarm repeatedly sounds, "tell the nurse this has got to stop," he says.
—Ask if it's OK to close the room door.
—Request a fan in the room to be "white noise" that muffles the electronics.
—Speak up if hallway conversations are too loud.
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