HUSH project uses airline inspiration to tackle noisy hospitals


By Siobhan Calafiore

27 Jun 2024

Australian findings that shared hospital rooms can reach noise levels rivalling a lawn mower at night have prompted researchers to develop a new program to help patients have a better sleep and, in turn, improve their health.

The HUSH project – Help Us Support Healing – provides a plane-inspired solution to the high noise levels experienced by patients, including a sleep pack on admission containing earplugs, eye masks, information on better sleeping and non-caffeinated hot drink sachets.

Other measures include a ward-based ‘sleep champion’ and ‘quiet times’ between 10pm and 6am, providing eight hours of minimised noise and interruptions, as well as a website with guided meditation, white noise (rain sounds) and relaxing music.

Previous survey data demonstrated a statistically significant decrease in noise disturbances for patients in shared rooms following four weeks of intervention.

“It’s about redefining care to create an environment that supports healing, and reducing the number of times staff visit a room by ‘chunking’ activities together can further minimise disturbance to patients,” said Corey Adams, a clinical researcher at Macquarie University’s Australian Institute of Health Innovation.

“A lot of noise is generated by people talking, when we’re in an environment that’s noisy we increase our own noise, so breaking that cycle is key with awareness important to this. These efforts aren’t just improving people’s comfort, it’s about enhancing patient safety and promoting healing.”

The project was guided by findings published in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care [link here], which showed the average noise level in patient rooms was 47.2 dB, exceeding the WHO’s recommended sound level of <30 dB.

Maximum readings ranged from 93.6-106.9 dB for each room over a 12-hour period. Notably, all shared rooms – and no single rooms – experienced peak noise levels surpassing 100 dB during the night, equivalent to the noise of a lawn mower.

The findings came from a sleep experience survey of 130 patients who spent more than 24 hours in one of seven wards in a large public hospital in Sydney during four weeks in 2021, as well as from noise measuring devices in hospital rooms.

Unsurprisingly, noise was the most disruptive factor to sleep in hospitals, ranked as “very disruptive” by one in five patients surveyed, followed by acute health conditions (11%) and nursing interventions (10%). Patients in shared rooms had the most disturbances, with 51% reporting ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ sleep quality.

The study also identified shared rooms had more noise peaks, with one room having 86 in12 hours, equating to one noise interruption every seven minutes.

Mr Adams, study lead author, stressed the findings and subsequent interventions were important as diminished sleep increased the risk of health complications like impaired glucose tolerance, hypertension, increased stress hormone response and delirium, as well as could affect pain levels, memory, mood and mental health.

“It’s accepted hospitals are noisy, but they need not be, and it’s about challenging norms to reduce the impact on patients and staff,” he said.

The study was a collaboration between researchers at Macquarie University’s Australian Institute of Health Innovation, St Vincent’s Health Network, the University of New South Wales, and the Sleep Health Foundation.

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