When Quiet is Healing

  • Jul 12, 2016

By Debi Fuller, Senior Interior Designer

“Unhealthy noise is the most cruel abuse of care which can be inflicted on the sick or the well.”-Florence Nightingale

While Florence Nightingale identified noise as a factor in patient healing over 150 years ago, current hospital environments continued to be filled by auditory clutter from technology, larger numbers of patients and visitors, and physical spaces that are, themselves, noisy. Today she may question why noise has become the norm for patient care and quiet, the exception.

A quiet environment has a powerful impact on a patient’s ability to heal. According to a study published in The Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012, higher-than-recommended hospital noise levels may cause patients to lose sleep and impede their ability to heal.

The World Health Organization found that the average noise level in a hospital patient ward is 95 decibels while the recommended level is 35 decibels. Sources of hospital noise include the HVAC, office equipment, alarms, medical equipment and rolling carts – all outside the room, and alarms in the patient room.

Lower noise levels can however be designed right into a healthcare facility with these sound solutions.

  • Evaluate the acoustic environment. Ninety-eight percent of sound striking a hard surface bounces back into the room. Acoustic wall panels can absorb 50-90 percent of the sound striking the surface. High quality acoustic ceiling panels can control reverberation. Lower ceiling heights (not to exceed nine foot) in noisy or sound sensitive areas can also make a difference.
  • Consider the floors. Resilient flooring with a cushion back or carpet tile can mask sounds.
  • Focus on the Waiting Area. Designing separate areas for television viewing, quiet, reading, cell phone use and children’s play can reduce noise in the Waiting Area. And acoustical materials in not only ceilings, walls, floors, but also furniture can contribute to a restful environment for family members.
  • Make patient rooms matter. It’s no secret that private or single patient rooms are less noisy. In facilities where multi-bed rooms are in use, curtains and Plexiglas barriers can provide both visual and auditory protection. Medical equipment that must be moved in and out of rooms can also create noise. Silent casters can reduce this volume.

Setting sound standards for equipment, technology, and design makes it possible for a patient to move through the healthcare system, from department to department, and experience the same standards of care. What the patient hears through his or her journey should reflect the same values and standards as the clinical care they receive.

Debi Fuller is Senior Interior Designer at Beck with a focus on finish, materials and sustainability.