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Relating Patient Sleep & Quality of Care


A recent New York Times Blog posted an article called, “The Clatter of the Hospital Room”, an interesting topic that gets one thinking about how sleep affects  a patient’s overall care.

Patients have been known to criticize hospital noise and their resulting inability to sleep, but their complaints have largely been ignored by doctors, nurses, and other staff who believe a quiet environment is less critical for patient care than the alerts from alarms, whistles and buzzers generated from frequent patient checks. This attitude is gradually changing, thanks to a greater focus on patients, as well as new policies linking hospital reimbursement to patient satisfaction.

An interesting study conducted by the University of Chicago found that peak noise levels in a hospital sometimes approaches the level of a chain saw. Patients in these loud rooms lose as much as one hour or more of sleep at night compared to those in quieter rooms. For every hour of sleep lost, the patient’s blood pressure increases by as much as six points.

What appears to be the most challenging obstacle in the quest for quiet, however, appears not to be the noise made by the machines, but the approach to patient care in most American hospitals. Doctors and nurses often wake patients up to assess non-urgent vitals such as, blood pressure, temperature, or to draw blood or administer medications that can be safely delayed.

It seems hospital staff need to find a way to work together to figure out what is best for the patient instead of doing things at their own convenience.

Some hospitals are trying  to change this culture with campaign initiatives such as, “Shhh” (Silent Hospitals Help Healing) and “Hush” (Help Us Support Healing) that institute mandatory quiet times, and use sound meters to alert staff when noise levels go above the acceptable range. While it’s too early to know if these initiatives will prove successful, it is clear that noise and lack of sleep are critical to quality of care.

As a health care provider, what are your thoughts on this topic? Do you feel your hospital is noisy and disruptive to patients and their overall healing process? Is your hospital using any type of initiative to address the noise issue? Comment below and join the discussion.

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