But medical administrators who realize their buildings are just too noisy are making changes.
They're replacing loud overhead paging systems with personal devices doctors carry, hard vinyl floors with rubber and traditional ceilings with sound-absorbing tiles.
Patients have to share rooms less often. And when hospitals redesign their buildings, they move elevators and other noisy areas away from patient rooms.
Several studies show that such practices can reduce patient stress, improving their recovery. Another motivating factor the inclusion of questions about noise in patient satisfaction surveys hospitals are required to report to the federal government.
Survey scores could play a role in how hospitals get reimbursed for services.
"If you can reduce noise, you can reduce distractions, and that will help to reduce medical errors," said David J. Stewart, a principal in the health-care group at Gresham, Smith and Partners, a Nashville-based design and consulting firm.High decibel levels
Patient and employee conversations and medical equipment in transit often produce noise that approaches the level in a busy restaurant, according to research studies. Meanwhile, noises from alarms and certain equipment such as portable X-ray machines were compared to walking next to a busy highway when a motorcycle or large truck passes.
Though the "quiet hospital" trend is catching on, many apparently still have work to do to better satisfy patients. But overall, noise level satisfaction is higher in Tennessee vs. the nation's average, according to an analysis by health-care consultant Press Ganey Associates of South Bend, Ind.
Last year, 43.8 percent of Tennessee respondents gave their hospital a "very good" grade for noise levels vs. 38.6 percent of all respondents nationwide. The 43.8 percent in Tennessee was up slightly from the 42.4 percent in 2008, while the nationwide average improved slightly from 37.2 percent in 2008. Tennessee patients, however, consider noise level just as important to satisfaction as do patients nationwide.(2 of 3)
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