Hospitals and Acoustics

When it comes to the acoustical concerns in hospitals speech privacy is often at the top of the list. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), requires that patient information cannot be disclosed without consent. This includes verbal consultations with doctors.  It is important that a hospital room be designed to maximize the privacy of patients. However Speech Privacy shouldn’t be the only concern when it comes to acoustics.  Noises and distractions can also affect the well being and recovery time of patients. Let’s say a patient has just had major surgery and is resting comfortably in their hospital room.  As they are about to drift off to sleep the HVAC system comes on with a whirring bang and the air blowing thorough the ducts vibrates loudly.  The noise and vibration disturbs the patient and the patient cannot relax and fall back asleep. The constant noise can also interrupt a resting patient and disturb their sleep. Rest is incredibly important for a patient’s recovery and disruption of sleep often leads patients to a longer recovery or can exacerbate patient’s aliments further.  For example, sudden noises can set off the “startle reflexes” and lead to increased blood pressure and higher respiratory rates.  Disturbances such as beepers, alarms, machines, rolling carts, HVAC , and even machine vibrations can cause stress and prolong the healing process. Poor environmental acoustics not only affect patients but hospital staff as well. Having to work in a poor acoustical environment can lead to irritation, fatigue, distraction, and even tension headaches.

Often materials used during hospital construction are chosen for ease of cleanliness. While these materials are valuable in keeping the hospital clean and germ free, they can negatively  impact  the acoustical environment they often reflect sound.  An acoustic consultant takes this into consideration and can make recommendations on the type of materials to use in walls and ceilings to help reduce noise and vibrations. They can also asses speech privacy and intelligibility through acoustic testing and make sure that it meets HIPAA standards.

Hospitals are a place where the sick go to heal. Highly trained nurses and doctors spend tireless hours helping their patients recover, a quiet and private space to essential to their recovery.