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Evaluation of the sensory environment in a large tertiary ICU.

BACKGROUND: ICU survival is improving. However, many patients leave ICU with ongoing cognitive, physical, and/or psychological impairments and reduced quality of life. Many of the reasons for these ongoing problems are unmodifiable; however, some are linked with the ICU environment. Suboptimal lighting and excessive noise contribute to a loss of circadian rhythms and sleep disruptions, leading to increased mortality and morbidity. Despite long-standing awareness of these problems, meaningful ICU redesign is yet to be realised, and the 'ideal' ICU design is likely to be unique to local context and patient cohorts. To inform the co-design of an improved ICU environment, this study completed a detailed evaluation of the ICU environment, focussing on acoustics, sound, and light.

METHODS: This was an observational study of the lighting and acoustic environment using sensors and formal evaluations. Selected bedspaces, chosen to represent different types of bedspaces in the ICU, were monitored during prolonged study periods. Data were analysed descriptively using Microsoft Excel.

RESULTS: Two of the three monitored bedspaces showed a limited difference in lighting levels across the day, with average daytime light intensity not exceeding 300 Lux. In bedspaces with a window, the spectral power distribution (but not intensity) of the light was similar to natural light when all ceiling lights were off. However, when the ceiling lights were on, the spectral power distribution was similar between bedspaces with and without windows. Average sound levels in the study bedspaces were 63.75, 56.80, and 59.71 dBA, with the single room being noisier than the two open-plan bedspaces. There were multiple occasions of peak sound levels > 80 dBA recorded, with the maximum sound level recorded being > 105 dBA. We recorded one new monitor or ventilator alarm commencing every 69 s in each bedspace, with only 5% of alarms actioned. Acoustic testing showed poor sound absorption and blocking.

CONCLUSIONS: This study corroborates other studies confirming that the lighting and acoustic environments in the study ICU were suboptimal, potentially contributing to adverse patient outcomes. This manuscript discusses potential solutions to identified problems. Future studies are required to evaluate whether an optimised ICU environment positively impacts patient outcomes.

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