By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had a huge hit with “The Sounds of Silence” about 50 years ago. It resonated with millions of people. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, excessive noise was considered a form of pollution, and that was long before anyone knew what a cell phone is.
Today, the scourge of excessive noise defies description. Unfortunately, it has metastasized, with some devastating consequences, into every nook and cranny of health care.
People in medical and dental practices, hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, and every other patient-care area are bombarded by incessant noise. Blaring TV’s, radios, “ patient-education” videos, cell-phone conversations, and shrill chatters continuously assault people who are sick and in pain. Some are them are even patients.
What exactly are the consequences of noise pollution in healthcare? For starters, staff members become increasingly edgy, irritable, and distracted. Burnout is rarely far behind. Patients and family members are often restless and annoyed. Patients in hospitals and nursing homes cannot rest or sleep. The resulting physiologic cascade can be staggering: 1) blood pressure and pulse increase; 2) glucose levels rise; 3) adrenaline, noradrenalin, insulin, and cortisol levels rise; 4) lymphocyte counts fall; 5) pain thresholds drop; and 6) tempers flare. Rarely, however, does anyone make the connection. What should we do? Let’s take better care of ourselves in order to take better care of our patients. Turn the sound down, or, better yet, turn it off (at least for a little while). The sounds of silence are long overdue.