If you have ever had to stay overnight in a hospital before, you will understand how difficult it can be to get any sleep, or just simply relax. Surrounded by nurses chatting, machines beeping, trolleys rolling, noise is everywhere and regularly exceeding acceptable levels.
In the UK, 40% of hospital patients are bothered by noise at night; a consistent finding of the NHS Inpatient Survey, with noise levels over 100dB measured in intensive care units. Noise at this level would make it almost impossible to get enter a deep sleep and is beyond the point where hearing damage begins to occur. Excessive hospital noise is not only damaging for patients by causing annoyance and fatigue by affecting sleep and rest quality but can also affect the quality care they receive.
Inpatients are more prone to anxiety and stress than healthy individuals, and the loud and distracting noise environment of a hospital ward exacerbates that vulnerability. Increased stress induced by a noisy hospital environment can also impact on pain sensitivity, blood pressure and mental health, often causing people to leave hospital too early only to be re-admitted.
Noise also has a significant impact on communication between doctors and nurses and their patients, affecting the quality of care given as well as their personal performance and fatigue.
The health and well-being benefits of effective acoustic treatment have been well researched in office and other working environments. So, it only makes sense that good acoustic design should be a focus during any new hospital project, whether a new build or refurbishment.
Due to hygienic and cleaning requirements within hospitals, hard surfaces such as solid floors, brick or heavily plastered walls and standard tile ceilings result in an environment which is highly reverberant. These surfaces reflect and sound back into the space, travelling through corridors in the other rooms and extending considerable distances through the hospital. These lingering sounds can make the environment feel even louder than it already is, resulting in an uncomfortable experience for both patients and staff.
So how can the sound environment in hospitals be improved?
Hospitals are unfortunately quite loud spaces, and can be difficult to treat. Regulations and guidelines for hospital acoustics can be found here. Known as HTM08-01, this document outlines criteria and guidance on a range of factors relating to hospital noise and acoustics. Many of the guidelines refer to the construction side of things, including windows, doors, sound insulation/sound proofing and external noise factors.
At Resonics, we focus more on internal noise factors, and absorbing or treating acoustic issues within each particular room or space. We generally treat reverberation and echo within a variety of commercial spaces using sound absorbing acoustic panels on the walls or ceilings.
Inside the patient wards where cleaning and hygiene are a high priority we won’t always be able mount our usual acoustic panels or wall systems; instead the sound absorption is often performed by hygienic ceiling tiles which are cleanable and anti-microbial.
In circulation or waiting areas, we are able to fit a choice of our most effective sound absorbing solutions which can drastically improve the performance of these spaces. Clarity of announcements, conversations between doctors and loved ones and just the general comfort of these areas will all improve thanks to acoustic treatment.
Another method of dealing with noise problems within various environments, sound masking can also help with masking noise travelling between rooms. In some ways it is the opposite of sound absorption, as it actually involves adding sound to a space, rather than taking it away. Sound masking is a specifically tuned ambient noise which is designed to reduce the perceived volume of other noise within the environment.
In recent times, sound masking systems have become more popular within healthcare environments. Certain studies have actually shown that patients in rooms with sound masking systems installed have found it easier to get to sleep, by preventing unwanted noises such as machine beeps from disrupting their sleep.
Not only does sound masking benefit patients sleep, it also helps by reducing speech intelligibility throughout the hospital. This is especially important for doctors offices and examination rooms, where a level of privacy and confidentiality is desired. Sound masking systems can be installed just about anywhere with great affect, regardless of the existing acoustic set up of the hospital.
For more in depth info about our sound masking solutions, click here.
Effective acoustic treatment in hospitals can have a drastic impact on the well-being of both patients and staff. These complex buildings require careful and strategic design to ensure that they are a comfortable environment for the best possible care to be given. Through a combination of absorption and masking systems, the comfort of healthcare spaces can be significantly improved.