Orthopedic Surgical Helmet Systems Significantly Impair Speech Intelligibility

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Surgical suits provide protection to orthopedic surgeons, but the suits and fan noise may interfere with communication between operative team members. The goal of this study was to quantify the fan sound and effect of the suit, fan, and N95 mask. Sound levels were measured using a specialized manikin and evaluated using preferred speech interference levels (PSILs), noise criterion (NC) ratings, and comparison with speech sound levels from the literature. Additionally, sound blocking due to the surgical suit was measured and combined effects of the fan and suit were described using a signal to noise ratio (SNR). The noise with the fan at medium and high speed was louder than average speech and the PSILs at these speeds were significantly higher than with the fan off. The fan NC rating of 50 to 60 exceeded the recommended range of 25 to 30 for operating rooms. The N95 mask, space suit, and distance between speaker and receiver all reduced the sound signal at the receiver's ear, with the worst case being full personal protective equipment on both and speaker distanced from receiver. The estimated SNR for the suit and fan system was negative for many frequency bands used in speech, indicating more noise than signal. Multiple measures indicated that the fan noises were at levels associated with speech interference. This noise combined with sound blocking provided by the suit produced SNRs commonly associated with noisy to very noisy environments. This study suggests the combined effects of the suit, fan, and distance may negatively impact operating room communication. [Orthopedics. 2021;44(4):208–214.]








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