Hospitals are inherently noisy environments with patients identifying clinical care and environmental noise as major sources of disturbance. Patients identify noise made by nurses and medical staff providing clinical care a main contributing factor (1), which can disrupt sleep and, in turn, have adverse effects on recovery and rehabilitation (2).

Aside from the noise of extensive foot traffic, the hospital environment itself can be full of loud noises from bedside monitors, pagers, and overhead public address (PA) systems. Hospitals should consider moving to a quieter environment to improve patient outcomes, according to Connected Health, powered by Wavelink.

There is also significant impact on the wellbeing of caregivers as the cognitive load of too much information being delivered can lead to negative impacts on both patient safety and staff wellbeing.

Alan Stocker, manager of Wavelink’s Connected Health business unit, said, “The overwhelming noise of a hospital can be distressing and disturbing for patients who recover faster in quieter environments, as well as distracting for caregivers who need to focus on the tasks at hand. To ensure the best chance of recovery for patients, it is essential that hospitals invest in solutions that help to minimise the impact of hospital noise, without sacrificing effective hospital communication.

“Deploying technology solutions that ensure alarms and messages are only delivered to their intended audience without disturbing patients is critical. For example, hospital management should consider solutions that replace overhead PA system announcements with direct messaging to hospital staff. The technology needs to be more sophisticated than just a pocket pager, as these often ring with the same tone, becoming another burden. In Australia, these devices also do not contextualise information or provide an effective response mechanism.

“Direct messaging ensures the right information is being sent to the right people. It’s important to be able to customise tones, announcements and the volume of audible alerts depending on time of day or area of the hospital while ensuring messaging will not be missed in a sea of loudspeaker announcements. This also reduces the potential for a page to be missed by a specialist or for potential miscommunication through broken PA systems.”

Direct communication for emergencies can also help to minimise the stress and disruption to patients. Instead, alerts can be sent directly to staff devices, ensuring correct and important information is communicated without risking alarm overload. Similarly, research indicates that hospital staff are susceptible to noise-induced stress leading to exhaustion and irritability. One of the leading causes of this is ‘alarm fatigue’, with data suggesting between 72 and 99 per cent of clinical alarms are false alarms. (3)

Alan Stocker said, “Frontline care workers in noisy hospital environments are at risk of experiencing ‘alarm fatigue’, becoming desensitised to important alarms, resulting in longer response times for emergencies. When these workers receive customised notifications directly to a mobile device, they know the nature of the alarm before they even remove the device from their pocket and are less likely to miss or ignore them and more likely to respond quickly.

“One of the most effective tools in the communications arsenal today is a smart device running relevant, purpose-built, healthcare applications. Leveraging these in a hospital environment can help ensure that staff are able to effectively communicate with each other about patients, emergencies, and hospital updates without adding undue stress to patients. Leveraging this technology for emergencies and sending alerts to devices in place of audible alarms ensures that staff are on-hand immediately without inciting panic among patients due to incessant alarms and beeps.”