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Quiet ORs Better for Patient Safety

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, May 16, 2013

At the University of Kentucky's outpatient surgery center, there's now a hallway decibel monitor that signals green, yellow and red when noise levels rise.

"We're trying to raise awareness that the volume of the sound in an environment matters, especially to patients who are scared and nervous as they travel into the operating room, and it's also important for what happens in the operating room itself."

Bush says that ongoing research by his team is looking at the impact of noise in the operating room on the ability of hearing-impaired surgeons, nursing and anesthesiology team members to understand what is being said. It may be, he acknowledged, that OR team members' ability to hear may come under more routine scrutiny as well.

Bush emphasizes that it's too early to recommend that institutions make policy changes. "There's no basis to say, 'No you can't listen to this or you can't do this.' We're not policy makers; we're researchers We want to use scientific methods to ask a question and in an unbiased way, answer that question."

He says, however, that "in medicine, as a culture, we realize that communication among providers is vital, and we're going to have to look carefully at these factors. There are unavoidable elements, but we may be able to modulate and decrease the volume of some of the things we use in providing care, and minimize other distractions."


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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