A Noisy Recovery

"A hospital is no place to be sick," said movie giant Samuel Goldwyn, and he might just have gotten it right. Aside from the fact that hundreds of thousands of patients die from hospital-acquired infections, complications, and medical mishaps, it now turns out that hospitals are not the oases of peace and quiet that we thought them to be.

A recent study by a team from Johns Hopkins University found that noise in hospitals has increased to a level that can be detrimental to the already fragile health of patients.

"As decibel levels in hospitals have steadily increased during the last five decades, so has the suffering of patients and staff," states an LA Times article from November 2005. With the cacophony of beeping instruments, doctors and nurses being paged over the loudspeakers, and the ongoing conversations between hospital staff, visitors and patients, a modern hospital bears "more resemblance to a 24-hour shopping mall than a quiet place where people can heal."

Even though the WHO recommends a maximum level of 35 decibels in its 1995 noise guidelines for hospitals, the Johns Hopkins researchers found out that virtually no hospital gets even close. The average noise level, which has drastically risen since 1960, is now at 72 decibels, in the evenings at 60.

Other recent studies have confirmed that noise might seriously affect a patient's health. One study of over 4,000 cardiac patients, published in the European Heart Journal, claims that exposure to chronic noise can lead to an increased heart attack risk. Another study on factory workers in an auto assembly plant found that blood pressure goes up when the noise level does.

Eileen Busch-Vishniac, one of the acoustic experts Johns Hopkins assigned the sound evaluation to, has only one laconic piece of advice: When going to the hospital, "I would strongly recommend earplugs."

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Posted 01-03-2006 3:53 PM by Doug Casey