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Hospital work generates noise. This article investigates the noise level in emergency departments
(EDs) to assess the need to address this aspect of the work environment and to investigate whether the replacement of dryerase
with electronic whiteboards lowers the noise level.
In Study I we measured the noise level at the three coordination centers of an ED while it was still using dryerase
whiteboards and after it had switched to electronic whiteboards. In Study II we made similar noise measurements at
another ED, supplemented with observation.
The median daily equivalent continuous noise levels were 60.0, 55.3, and 55.4 dB(A) at the three coordination
centers in Study I and 56.5 dB(A) at the coordination center in Study II. In both studies the noise levels were higher
during workdays than weekends and higher during day and evening shifts than during night shifts. The maximum
equivalent continuous noise levels across 1 second were above 80 dB(A) at all four coordination centers. At two of the
centers above 80 dB(A) noises also occurred at night. After the introduction of electronic whiteboards the noise level was
lowered at one ED but unchanged at the other ED. The main noise sources at the ED in Study II were clinicians talking,
phones ringing, and equipment being moved around.
The noise level at both EDs is above levels previously found to decrease the quality of work, increase the
strain on the staff, or both. The transition from dry-erase to electronic whiteboards gave mixed results with respect to
alleviating the noise problems.