Noise levels in intensive care akin to those of a busy restaurant

Oxford researchers and ICU staff trial ways to eliminate unnecessary alarms 

Oxford University researchers are trialling ways to combat distressing noise levels in intensive care.

A collaboration between the university and John Radcliffe Hospital is examining measures including alarm guidelines. ICU staff are being urged to look at volume control on equipment, tailoring it to each patient to avoid ‘alarm fatigue’.

Lead researcher Julie Darbyshire told ‘When nurses hear a sound it can be left to run. Patients don’t necessarily know the alarm isn’t urgent, and this can cause distress.’

The project is funded by a £280,000 grant from the National Institute for Health Research following an investigation of sound levels in five ICU wards.

The 2013 study published in the journal Critical Care, found ICU staff considered some monitor alarms to be disproportionate to their urgency. And staff were desensitised to non-urgent alarms, causing needless distress to patients.

‘Patients are subjected to a continuous level of sound which, at best, is only below conversation level and during the day equates to a nearby television or dishwasher,’ researchers concluded.

Ms Darbyshire said: ‘If we reduce the sound levels by three to five decibels, we can make a noticeable change to staff and patients.’

The Oxford researchers undertook 40 hours of observations on wards at John Radcliffe. Intensive care and anaesthetics consultant, Duncan Young, said: ‘Our research found that during the day, noise levels in the ICU are equivalent to those of a busy restaurant.

‘While things were quieter at night, we still found sounds louder than 85 decibels – around the level of a road drill – were happening up to 16 times an hour.’

A number of noise-reducing measures have been introduced at John Radcliffe, including the replacement of metal bins with plastic ones.

The researchers are trialling a noise-level display, expected to be available by mid-2017, so staff can monitor ward noise.




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