Door alarms, heart monitors, surgical equipment, and Ted Nugent? Yes, Ted Nugent.
As I wrote in this month’s Medical Environment Update newsletter , excessive noise is an issue in the OR, where the eardrums of surgical team members are often bombarded by a bunch of different sources. Believe it or not, that sometimes includes classic rockers like the aforementioned Mr. Nugent, a popular playlist pick among surgeons .
Excessive noise in the OR can affect auditory processing among surgical team members, leading to miscommunication in critical moments and, subsequently, medical mistakes that affect patients plus needlestick injuries and slip-ups with a surgical knife.
I also focused on how it can expose surgical team members to hearing damage, too.
“[The surgical team is] like a construction crew,” Matthew Bush, MD, of the University of Kentucky, told me in a phone conversation. “Perhaps there are some people who have to use jackhammers and there’s other people who are using paintbrushes.” But in any case, that noise can add up, and “we need to be very conscious of that.”
Another thing to be wary of, according to a recent CDC study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine , is high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“A significant percentage of the workers we studied have hearing difficulty, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol that could be attributed to noise at work,” Liz Masterson, MD, one of the study’s authors, said in a CDC press release . “This study provides further evidence of an association of occupational noise exposure with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and the potential to prevent these conditions if noise is reduced.”
While the healthcare was not mentioned in that press release as an industry “with the highest prevalence of occupational noise exposure,” OR staff members often must work through loud bursts of noise that occur throughout many surgeries.
This is a concern that Lisa Spruce of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses brought up during our recent chat about excessive noise, saying it “has been linked to impaired sleep, increased stress, physical discomfort, increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. And that all just has an effect on a person’s well-being.”
Spruce says some healthcare facilities have noise-related policies. And if yours doesn’t, she recommends forming an interdisciplinary team to evaluate noise in facilities and by individual types of surgery, and then determining what actions you can take to decrease noise levels, including exploring quieter alternatives for surgical equipment.
“I think we’re bringing more attention to [noise] as a problem where we haven’t in the past,” she said. “So, I think we are going to see more and more hospitals having policies and looking at it from a patient safety, and also a staff safety standpoint.”