Research shows that intensive care units (ICUs) with lower noise levels could potentially lead to better outcomes for patients and improve the situation for relatives and caregivers. Professor John Fraser, Director of ICU at St Andrew’s War Memorial hospital and Director of the Critical Care Research Group (CCRG) at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who leads a team that is investigating how the ICU environment impacts patients and staff, is one of many who look forward to the days of a Quiet ICU.
Noise levels and the number of alarms going off in intensive care units (ICUs) are often found to be beyond acceptable levels and well above international recommendations. The average daytime noise levels have been reported to be around 60-65 decibels with peak levels up to 80-90 decibels, which is similar to being close to power tools in use. Unfortunately, the noise levels are also very high at night. This is getting more and more recognized as a problem in hospitals across the world.
“We admit our sickest patients into the ICU to help them recover from a critical illness or injury. It is well known that sleep and rest are important for recovery. However, most of the noise created that interferes with the patients’ ability to sleep and rest are clinical alarms from medical equipment situated at the patient bedside, usually very close to the patients’ head. This is very interesting when you think of it, as the patient cannot do anything to address the alarms – they are there for the caregiver to respond to. This leads to a suboptimal healing environment as it can interrupt sleep and often causes unnecessary anxiety for the patient,” says Professor Fraser.
The same goes for relatives who come to visit; when they hear an alarm close to their loved one it frequently causes them to believe that something is seriously wrong, even though most of the time it is a low priority alarm notifying the caregiver about something that does not need immediate attention.
“We also know that excessive noise has an impact on the caregiver’s health. Additionally, up to 90 percent of the alarms are low priority and don’t require any immediate action, and with this many alarms going off all the time there is a risk that staff will accidentally ignore a potentially critical one,” explains Prof Fraser. “It would make a lot more sense to send these alarms and the clinical data directly to the caregiver, to help them with their decision making and give them more immediate control of the alarm, rather than unnecessarily disturb and worry the patients.”
Global MedTech supplier Getinge, along with partners from other industries, are working side by side with clinicians and researchers to make this happen.
“By using existing and upcoming technologies for integrated solutions and the ability to transfer alarm data directly to the caregiver, the vision of a quiet ICU will become real. It’s good to see different companies working together to solve this,” says Prof Fraser.
Prof Fraser and the rest of the research team are conducting research on patients in the ICU suffering from delirium. For him, the Quiet ICU is a very welcome solution.
“We have excellent survival rates in ICUs today, but what if patients could survive with less complications after spending time in the ICU? This is a simple solution that could potentially achieve significant improvements in patient outcomes, a friendlier environment where relatives can focus on being supportive instead of terrified, and last but not least a safer and more efficient way for caregivers to not only save more lives but also improve the quality of those lives.”