Avinash Konkani: Noise in Hospital Intensive Care Units

Back in the fall of 2010, when I came to Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan to carry out my PhD study in systems engineering, I was searching for a topic related to medical devices, human factors, and patient safety. My education in biomedical engineering and work experience in the large hospital inspired me to read through articles related to patient safety and human factors, including “Performance Obstacles of Intensive Care Nurses” by A.P. Gurses and P. Carayon. This article mentioned that noise is the number one performance obstacle for nurses in intensive care units.

Meanwhile, in a discussion with my doctoral adviser, Dr. Barbara Oakley, I learned that strong research needs quantitative data. I thought that noise can be measured; noise is a human factors issue as well, as it is related to medical devices and patient safety. My adviser and I agreed to explore the topic of noise in hospital ICUs.

We carried out a literature review to understand in detail about the noise in ICUs. We learned that there is no consistent method applied while measuring and analyzing the noise levels in the ICUs, and there was confusion with words like LAeq, Lavg, LCpeak , LAmax.  Our article, “Noise in Hospital Intensive Care Units—a Critical Review of a Critical Topic” was published this fall in the Journal of Critical Care. In the article, we discuss the best practices and common pitfalls of previous studies conducted to understand the sources related to ICU noise and methods applied to reduce the noise levels. You can read the full article here.

Continuing our research to find a low-cost method to reduce the noise levels arising from the medical devices, we conducted another review study. The paper, “Reducing Hospital Noise: A Review of Medical Device Alarm Management” was published in the November/December 2012 issue of BI&T, AAMI’s peer-reviewed journal. We concluded that customizing the medical device alarms as per each patient’s condition is a promising technique to reduce the number of false alarms. We are continuing our research on reducing hospital noise at Oakland University.

Avinash Konkani

Member, Clinical Alarms Steering Committee, Healthcare Technology Safety Institute

Doctoral graduate student, Oakland University

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