Enhancing Healing Spaces: The Vital Role of Acoustic Design in Hospitals

Designing a hospital involves meticulous planning and consideration of various technical aspects. Among them, the significance of acoustic management cannot be overstated. The significance of noise levels in healthcare facilities should not be overlooked, given their direct influence on patient well-being and the overall therapeutic atmosphere.

Strategies that create a quieter and more conducive healing environment for patients and staff are thus of paramount concern while designing hospitals Some of these have been listed below:

Creating Quieter Areas within Hospitals

From the outset of hospital planning, acoustics management should play a pivotal role. By carefully dividing the hospital into zones, we can separate quieter areas from the noisier ones, helping to identify major noise sources and differentiate quieter areas. This involves segregating public and private zones, placing vibration-prone equipment in structurally sound areas, and locating noise-sensitive units like NICUs and ICUs in zones of relative tranquillity. High-vibration equipment should be located in areas with greater structural stiffness to minimise noise levels at their source. These measures contribute to the optimal well-being of patients by creating a more conducive healing environment and also facilitate the identification of areas requiring heavy acoustical treatment, such as sound-absorbing linings and partitions.

Despite the inherent noise in hospitals due to constant foot traffic and the operation of heavy equipment, maintaining a healing environment requires controlling visitor and patient noise levels. Strategies such as implementing quiet hours, encouraging individuals to reduce noise from personal devices, using sound level indicators in patient rooms, and coordinating care to minimise unnecessary entry during quiet hours are essential for ensuring a serene atmosphere and further enhancing the overall acoustical design of the hospital.

Noise Control in Healthcare Facilities

Given the importance of cleanliness and hygiene in hospitals, traditional soundproofing materials may not always be suitable. Designers face limitations in using traditional sound-absorptive materials in high-traffic areas like the ICU or emergency department. However, several products are designed to address acoustic control while meeting healthcare standards. For instance, washable mineral fibre acoustical ceiling tiles with a noise-reduction coefficient of 0.70 provide effective sound absorption. Alternative materials, such as crushed glass or stone wool, offer sound-absorptive properties while minimising the need for volatile organic compounds. Additionally, manufacturers offer nature-inspired sound-absorptive products, incorporating biophilic design elements such as perforated natural wood veneers.

Enhancing Acoustic Privacy

To enhance acoustic privacy and minimise the impact of transient or fluctuating noise, sound masking techniques can be employed. By introducing continuous background noise, such as pink/white noise, natural sounds, or music, sound masking helps the ear adapt and reduces the perception of intrusive sounds. This technique helps reduce the difference between intrusive sound levels and the background levels, creating a more soothing and private atmosphere for patients.

Staff Participation

In the pursuit of a quieter hospital environment, active participation of hospital staff is of paramount importance. Caregivers need to be mindful of the noise generated by their activities, ensuring that patient-care areas are separated from noise-generating zones. By designating specific report areas away from patient rooms, coordinating patient-care activities, implementing patient surveys, and establishing quiet hours, healthcare professionals can actively contribute to minimising noise levels and promoting a restful atmosphere for patients.

While it may not be possible to eliminate all noise, efficient design and good practices can go a long way in creating a more harmonious hospital environment. Layout considerations, appropriate material choices, and fostering a culture of quietness through education contribute to reducing noise levels in hospitals. By continuously refining and implementing acoustic design strategies, hospitals can enhance the healing experience for patients and contribute to overall well-being.

Spokesperson: Alpana Gupta, Partner at VGA