Susan E. Mazer, Ph.D. Blog

Thoughts and ideas on healthcare

Hi, and welcome to my blog! I'm Susan E. Mazer -- a knowledge expert and thought leader on how the environment of care impacts the patient experience. Topics I write about include safety, satisfaction, hospital noise, nursing, care at the bedside, and much more.

Hospital Noise: The Issue That Just Won’t Go Away

September 16, 2016

hospital noiseIn reviewing my posts from the past year, I discovered that have not written about hospital noise for a while.

I have, however, given presentations about hospital noise, offering my opinions and sympathy about it — because so much work has been invested in this issue and it just will not go away.

So, rather than write about hospital noise again (which all of us know too much about), I’m focusing on its refusal to go away, transform itself, and the struggles to deal with it effectively.

What is Noise?

Here is the short of it:

  1. Noise is the reverberation of the “big bang.”  It has existed and will continue to exist in perpetuity.
  2. Most noise is about people, human activity, and interactions. Yes, there is also technology. But people cause more annoying noise.
  3. Noise is not about volume. Noise is noise at any volume.
  4. Noise does not exist in nature.
  5. Noise is a sound that is experienced as disturbing, annoying, unwanted, and more.
  6. Noise is always annoying. If it is not annoying, it is a sound. Period.
  7. Noise can be made worse or be exaggerated due to the acoustic character of the space where the noise originates.  But, fixing the acoustics will not eliminate noise.
  8. Noise occurs at the wrong time, the wrong place, and is heard by the exact person who is noise averse. That is why it is called noise.

And that’s only a partial list.

Eliminating All Hospital Noise is Not Possible (or Desirable)

Remember that old question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?”

But can a sound really be noise if no one is there to hear it?  Well, no.  The falling of the tree may make a sound, but if no one is there to deem it “noise,” then it will remain a sound.

If the tree is not falling, then, what will you be hearing?  Birds, insects, the breeze, and lapping water?   Yep, noise to someone, and stunningly beautiful sounds to someone else.

Given all of this, eliminating hospital noise is not possible, if only because every sound may be noise to someone.  The best efforts should be to minimize sounds that are inappropriate to the mission and goals of your patients and caregivers.

And, accept that the sound of healing is beautiful.  And, although we do not know exactly how healing sounds, we will know it when we hear it!

What you cannot control, mask.  Provide an alternative focus.

Also, understand that hospital noise control is never a “set-it-and-forget-it.”  It is an ongoing, living, dynamic characteristic of all living environments.

I have, indeed, simplified the solution.  But, think about noise as you walk through your own hospital corridors and listen within and around patient rooms.

Given what you hear, if you cannot get rid of it, what are you going to do about it?

Want to know more? Download an updated version of my whitepaper, “Hospital Noise and the Patient Experience.”

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