Rx for quieting noise in hospitals

Studies show lower noise levels improve speech intelligibility, reduce work pressure, staff stress, and voice fatigue in hospitals.

Reducing reverberation
Hard sound-reflecting surfaces typical of many hospital designs cause sounds to linger and have long reverberation times. When acoustic conditions are characterized by long reverberation times, sounds overlap, resulting in reduced speech intelligibility.

Reverberation time is largely determined by the amount of sound-absorbing materials in the room. Research has shown installing high-performance sound-absorbing ceiling panels results in reduced noise levels, improved speech intelligibility, and reduced perceived work pressure among staff.

To reduce noise levels and reverberation time, acoustical ceiling panels should have a noise reduction co-efficient (NRC) of 0.60 or greater. The NRC indicates the ability of a ceiling panel to absorb sound. It is expressed as a number between 0.00 and 1.00, and indicates the average percentage of sound the ceiling absorbs. An NRC of 0.70 indicates the ceiling absorbs 70 per cent of the sound striking it. The higher the NRC, the better the ceiling acts as a sound-absorber—an NRC of 0.70 or higher is considered high performance and an NRC of 0.50 or lower is considered low performance.

Protecting patient privacy
In current healthcare settings, patients can be exposed to situations where they overhear conversations about other patients, or their own private information is communicated in an environment where it can be heard by others.

This impacts trust and ability to freely discuss health issues with their physicians, which could seriously impact patient care. (Check out www.healthdesign.org/system/files/CHD_Issue_Paper3.pdf to read A. Joseph’s “The Role of the Physical and Social Environment in Promoting Health, Safety, and Effectiveness in the Healthcare Workplace,” published in the November 2006 issue of The Center for Health Design.) It is critical, therefore, private conversations with or about a patient are not overheard.

Acoustical ceiling panels can help ensure patient privacy. To do so, the ceilings panels should have a ceiling attenuation class (CAC) of 35 or higher. This metric indicates the ability of a ceiling to block sound in one space from passing up into the plenum and transmitting back down into an adjacent space sharing the same plenum. The higher the CAC, the better the ceiling acts as a barrier to sound intrusion between spaces. A CAC of 35 or higher is considered high performance, while low performance is less than 25.

Many high-performance ceilings meeting the acoustical needs of healthcare facilities feature a smooth, soil-resistant, water-impervious surface capable of being easily washed with disinfecting cleaners.

Absorption and blocking
In the past, selection of an acoustical ceiling was often dictated by the function of the space. The choice was either a ceiling with good sound absorption to decrease noise levels or one with good ceiling attenuation to block unwanted sound intrusion into a space.

However, some newer ceiling panels feature a combination of both high-performance sound absorption and high-performance sound-blocking in the same panel. Ceiling panels offering this type of performance have an NRC of 0.60 or greater and a CAC of 35 or greater.

By delivering the ability to both reduce noise and keep it from travelling into adjacent areas, the ceiling panels are an ideal choice for today’s healthcare facilities. Typical applications include patient, examination, consultation, meeting and treatment rooms, as well as nurses’ stations and physicians’ private offices.

Quiet and clean
Ceilings installed in healthcare environments are required to be cleanable and must not interfere with infection control practices. They should be water-repellant, washable, and scrubbable. Many high-performance ceilings meeting the acoustical needs of healthcare facilities can be readily cleaned, providing both clean room performance and a smooth, soil-resistant, water-impervious surface capable of being easily washed with disinfecting cleaners.

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