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Do you ever wonder why emergency rooms or hospitals, in general, are so cold?
It’s probably not what you’re thinking or what the hospital personnel told you. In fact, most people are convinced the cold environment in hospitals lowers the risk of infection.
This, of course, is far from the truth. If anything, the low temperatures increase the risk of viral infections, affecting your body and circulation, narrowing your blood vessels, and restricting blood flow and supply of oxygen.
So what’s the big deal? Why are emergency rooms so cold?
Emergency rooms are so cold for three reasons: to inhibit bacterial growth, to prevent condensation forming on the hospital equipment, floors, ceilings, and walls, and to keep the temperature relatively comfortable for the hospital staff.
Read on to find out the reasons why emergency rooms are so cold.
To remove condensation.
Keeping humidity levels in emergency rooms manageable is another reason why the temperatures are usually low in hospitals. When the rooms are too warm, condensation gathers on the surface of the walls, ceilings, floor as well as medical equipment.
Having excess moisture in hospitals can cause big problems. It will not only compromise the staff and patients’ comfort but also wreak havoc on equipment and supplies.
If it’s not dealt with right away, it can develop into even greater problems. The droplets of liquid water can cause equipment failure as well as corrode steel and metallic surgical tools.
Even worse, fall onto exposed disinfected surfaces and patients’ open wounds. These instances can pose a serious health risk to patients. Equipment repairs don’t come cheap either.
Moreover, having a sweating floor in a hospital setting is quite risky. When the humid air comes into contact with the cold concrete floor, it cools below the dew point and condenses on the surface. This causes the floor to become wet and slippery, posing a danger to patients, staff, and visitors.
It’s for these reasons that hospitals install the temperature and environmental monitoring systems. These systems ensure the rooms remain within a specified temperature range. This, in turn, keeps the hospital functioning effectively and efficiently while ensuring everyone’s safety.
To keep hospital equipment working in top condition.
It’s crucial for surgical tools and machinery to stay functional. Over the years, hospitals have invested in sophisticated instruments and equipment, which are pretty expensive. When you bring life cycle costs into the picture, billions of dollars can be spent annually.
Because of the delicate and expensive nature of these instruments and equipment, it’s essential to preserve and maintain them at optimum working conditions. And most importantly, minimize the risk of having downtime, which can compromise the patients’ safety.
The cold temperatures at hospitals help prevent equipment from overheating. CT scanners, for instance, generate a lot of heat during use and require continuous cooling to avoid overheating and remain functional.
To provide comfort to hospital staff.
Another reason why emergency rooms are so cold is to keep hospital staff and patients comfortable. Emergency rooms, especially in large facilities, are pretty much a scene of controlled chaos, with the ER staff working around the clock to save lives.
Doctors, for instance, operate under intense pressure most of the time. This can very easily cause their body temperature to rise and start to sweat if the conditions aren’t favorable.
And the last thing they want is to be all sweaty or uncomfortable when dealing with a life-and-death situation.
Nurses, on the other hand, are always up and down–lifting patients, helping in procedures, and assisting patients in getting out of bed and walking. They hardly get a break during their shift. So working in a hot environment can lead to heat exhaustion, which in turn makes their job way more difficult than it already is.
The cold temperature is also designed to level up the trauma surgeon’s comfort. A surgical procedure is always a delicate process. Surgical lights give off a lot of heat over the surgical table.
On top of that, gowns, masks, gloves, caps can overheat the surgeons, especially when a lengthy procedure is taking place. Some procedures also require surgeons to wear a headlight, which produces extra heat.
Comfort is of utmost importance for healthcare professionals to ensure efficient, timely, integrated, and equitable services.
When it comes to patients, they are usually given heated blankets or heating pads to keep their body temperature from dropping too low. There’s a risk of infection if that happens.
Patients with burn injuries, however, cannot be covered with blankets and are prone to hypothermia due to the loss of skin. So the rooms are heated to a certain degree to help maintain their normal body temperature.
To prevent the growth of bacteria.
Bacteria is always lurking somewhere–in the air, equipment, water, etc. It just needs the right conditions to thrive. Most bacteria grow and survive in warm and humid environments.
Emergency and operating rooms are usually about 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), chillier than most people would like. But this reduces the survival rate of bacteria.
Humans are the greatest contributors to bacterial contamination. And considering the number of people that come in and out of hospitals, the risk of infection caused by these contaminants can increase significantly. Patients are particularly more vulnerable to infections because of their illness.
While the spread of infections can occur in different ways, the hospital environment can serve as a point source. This means both patients and healthcare workers pick up the pathogens from the environment.
Patients, for instance, are likely exposed to bacteria through indirect contact with the hands of hospital staff, whereas pieces of equipment make it very easy for the staff to acquire these pathogens.
Besides observing hand hygiene compliance, investing in temperature control systems go a long way in ensuring emergency rooms don’t become breeding grounds for these organisms. The cold temperature will stop the growth of harmful bacteria.
The cold environment will also discourage patients from moving about. Staying under a warm blanket is much more inviting than getting exposed to chilly temperatures. And with less movement, the risk of infection from patient to patient is reduced significantly.
While not everything is preventable, such measures can reduce patients’/visitors’ exposure to bacteria in hospitals. Besides, a colder environment is not as harmful as bacterial infections.
To keep air conditioning running smoothly.
Most hospitals invest in environmental control systems to make sure the AC units are running efficiently. Unlike refrigerators and freezers, most air conditioning systems are not designed to operate at low temperatures constantly. The strain can actually ruin the compressor.
It’s for this reason that hospitals invest in environment and temperature monitoring systems. These systems usually monitor the temperature and moisture levels to ensure they maintain the set temperature range. And in case the HVAC system fails, it will send alerts to notify personnel assigned to the department of the same.
Keep in mind these systems do not interfere with the AC system balance of the hospital building. The system basically oversees the proper functioning of the HVAC systems. Effective monitoring is another reason why emergency rooms are so cold.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that emergency rooms are usually colder to make the hospital environment safer, healthier, and better for everyone. It’s a calming environment for healthcare workers. It minimizes distractions, which helps them provide better care for patients. Patients, on the other hand, can always ask for blankets when they feel cold as their comfort is a priority for hospitals.