According to a recent article in the Boston Globe, hospitals are now twice as noisy as they were in the 1960s. This is partly thanks to modern lifesaving equipment, which not only produce their own beeps and other noises, but also because today’s hospitals are awash in hard surfaces. These surfaces make for easy cleaning but they also reflect sound, rather than absorb it.
The noise levels in modern healthcare facilities impact not only patients’ ability to sleep, but also anxiety and stress. It can also negatively affect providers’ abilities to properly care for their patients. In one famous case, noise fatigue led a staff member to turn off a patient’s beeping heart monitor.
While the need for cleanliness can prevent designers from using standard noise-muffling equipment, a manager can take the following nine steps to help reduce noise levels in a healthcare facility:
- Evaluate noise
Check noise levels through patient surveys and by measuring decibel levels.
Consider glass fiber acoustical ceiling panels for open spaces like corridors, mineral fiber acoustical ceiling panels for patient rooms, and composite ceiling panels (glass fiber facing with a mineral fiber or gypsum board backing) for neonatal intensive care units.
- Privacy barriers
Privacy curtains for multi-patient rooms can be surprisingly noisy. Test the noise level of opening and closing your curtains. If it’s higher than 80 dBA there are quieter options available.
- Wall panels
For areas that need washing, consider glass or cotton fiber wall panels coated with an impervious film like taffeta vinyl, mylar or polyvinyl fluoride. For nonclinical areas, fabric-wrapped panels should suffice.
Consider replacing overhead paging with wireless headsets.
- Nursing stations
Greater concentrations of people tend to cause more noise, so decentralize nursing stations where possible.
Allow certain patients to close their doors and add “do not disturb” signs.
- Adding noise
Install white noise machines and/or add music to help make intrusive sounds less audible and or startling.
Various studies have shown that anywhere from 87% to 96% of alarms do not actually signal a critical event, needlessly adding to patient anxiety and stress as well as noise fatigue by staff. The American College of Clinical Engineering’s Healthcare Technology Foundation offers several recommendations to help mitigate these problems, including: standardizing equipment alarm sounds and user controls and training clinicians on the best practices for operation of alarm-based devices.
There are a host of noise-producing variables with regards to mechanical systems design, including duct sizing, fan selection, terminal boxes, vibration isolators, and more. For more guidance on noise reduction in your healthcare facility, contact Vanguard Resources.