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Introduction Hospitals can be noisy, disruptive places, not conducive with environments of rest and rehabilitation that patients require. The World Health Organization (WHO) guideline recommended values for continuous background noise in hospital patient rooms are 35 decibels during the day and 30 decibels at night.1 However hospital ward noise levels may reach levels as high as 85 decibels.2 What are the primary sources of background noise at ward level and does this adversely affect patients' hospital experience?
Methods Measurements on the true sound level by means of a decimetre were recorded on 3 wards (an acute medical, an acute geriatric medicine, and a rehabilitation ward). Environmental sources of noise were documented. Following this, surveys of patient and staff attitudes to noise levels and their environment were obtained.
Results From eighty measurements the average reading was 65.5 dB (Range: 51–84 decibels). Wards that had the greatest number of communal media devices happened to be the quietest wards (average of 65 dB). Acute medical wards without any communal television or radio produced the highest sound level readings (up to 84 dB).
Of the 50 patients surveyed, average age 77.2 (39–92), 78% had a positive or neutral impression of noise levels in their room. However it was noted that 52% were unaware who selected what was playing on the media devices and 72% were found to be either immobile or require assistance in mobility.
Conclusions Noise levels reached excessive levels on the wards assessed. The findings reflect that the most significant noise generated on wards is not from media devices. Patients tended to look at media devices positively, however their freedom to choose what was playing on these devices was restricted by immobility.
References 1. Berglund B, Guidelines for Community Noise, 1999 Geneva - WHO
2. Topf M, Journal of Advanced Nursing, 2000, 31;3, 520-528