Operating rooms traditionally have not contained sound absorptive materials in order to comply with infection control concerns. The lack of sound absorption results in noise levels that can affect speech intelligibility and make the space fatiguing.
This acoustically uncomfortable environment can affect patient outcomes.
A recent study by Kurmann et al in the British Journal of Surgery has linked higher noise levels in the operating room to increased surgical site infections. Sound absorptive panels can reduce these noise levels, but there are infection control requirements that do not make this easy.
The Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides guidance to healthcare facilities for infection control. Its publications focus on high-touch surfaces and advocate for routine cleaning of environmental surfaces such as tables, floors, walls, ceilings, and lights in operating rooms.
The Facilities Guidelines Institute 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Healthcare Facilities document calls for monolithic ceilings and wall finishes free of fissures or crevices.
There are manufacturers that produce cleanable sound absorptive panels that have been installed in surface-applied arrangements in operating rooms. These panels have been tested with many disinfectants without any effect or staining, and can be installed in ways that minimize crevices.
I believe that sound absorptive panels in operating rooms will be very helpful acoustically, but incorporating them will require discussions with infection control leaders at individual hospitals and buy-in from these leaders.
Benjamin Davenny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.