5 Simple Steps to Reduce Noise in the Operating Room

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When did operating rooms get so noisy?

1960s and ‘70s medical television shows depicted masked surgeons under bright lights, sweat beading on their brows, the silence broken only by heart monitor beeps and occasional requests for instruments. Today’s mechanized equipment along with a more relaxed culture among operating room staff leading to more conversation has spurred a consistent rise in operating room noise.

Today, the International Noise Council recommends that noise levels in hospitals not exceed a certain noise level during day, at sunset, and at night.

And yet, a recent study of 10 hospitals in Iran shows a high noise pollution level during most major surgical procedures in operating rooms far exceeds these standards. According to the study, the highest level of noise occurs during orthopedic procedures and the lowest during laparoscopy and heart surgeries. The highest recorded noise level was 93 dB, and another study measured hospital noise as high as 130 dB. Noise from running equipment, trolley movement, and staff conversation were the worst offenders. Many additional studies echo similar concerns about high noise levels in operating rooms.

Problems Caused by Noise in the Operating Room

Noise in the operating room impedes clear communication, distracts medical professionals, and increases stress. These issues directly impact patient safety since studies show that surgical errors could be attributed to noise in the operating room. Additionally, nurses report that distractions and interruptions negatively impact the quality of the work environment and the safety of care provided to surgical patients.

And it’s not just nurses who are expressing these concerns. A 2017 study  surveyed 519 healthcare providers from 50 hospitals in the UK. When surveyed, 415 providers (83%) responded that excessive noise caused errors during surgery and 282 (57%) felt that the operating room was the noisiest place in the area. 400 providers felt communication between staff members was adversely affected by this noise, and 384 (77%) felt that it interrupted concentration. These studies aside, common sense tells us that noisy conditions during surgery disrupt focus, which can be harmful.

Clearly, surgeons who prioritize patient safety and the best surgical outcomes will take steps to reduce the noise in their surgical suites.

Remedies for Noisy Operating Rooms

  1. Retrain staff on the importance of quiet for concentration. Many surgeons feel they can focus better with music and studies back this up. Interruptions, however, can break concentration, impeding surgical precision. Showing staff statistics and comments from surgeons and OR staff makes these issues more vivid. This training has proven successful in acute inpatient hospital wards and in intensive care units worldwide.
  2. Implement the use of a structured form of communication in the operating room. Pilots in the cockpit and members of the military on missions stick with short, clipped sentences they’ve been trained to use. This step can switch the staff approach to the operating room from a casual setting where banter is accepted to one that encourages only necessary, meaningful communication.
  3. Measure and document noise levels in the OR to create a baseline and then target lower goals. Noise meters and gauges are available at hospital supply companies. Put strategies in place and collect data to reveal progress. Also, consider using noise meters during procedures so that someone monitoring it can warn staff that levels are getting high.
  4. Review the operating room. Determine whether the floor, walls, and ceilings reverberate or absorb noise.
    However, this can be difficult because to best clean surfaces for germ removal, these materials tend to be solid rather than porous. Of course, a solid surface reflects rather than absorbs sound, making it worse.
  5. Select the quietest operating room equipment. As mentioned above, equipment is one of the primary sources of operating room noise. Surgical equipment manufacturers are only now prioritizing noise reduction. One pioneer is Moeller Medical. Thanks to an innovative insulation technology, the Vacusat® power surgical aspirator runs at 53 dB (A), one of the quietest in its class.
    Other surgical aspirators run with a noise emission of 70 dB (A), which causes much more distraction then the Vacusat® power.
    With the ability to run at 58 l / min at 50Hz, its power makes even long procedures quiet and comfortable. This versatile and complete system allows for quick, reliable, pain-free surgeries for body contouring and lipofilling in breast reconstruction.

Reduced Operating Room Noise Reduces Stress and Fatigue

Surgeons and hospital administrators know very well that lower noise levels translate into better concentration, clearer communication, with fewer errors and complications. These goals can be achieved when proactive professionals make the effort to train staff, put rules into place, and use the most silent equipment on the market to make operating rooms as quiet as possible.