Acoustics are the norm in a concert hall or workplace environment, but in healthcare facilities, the norm becomes much more complicated.

The topic was one tackled by Erica Ryherd, PhD, LEED AP, assistant professor, Georgia Institute of Technology; Craig Zimring, PhD, professor, Georgia Institute of Technology; and Jeremy Ackerman, MD, PhD, assistant professor, Emory University School of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine in the session “Merging Architecture, Engineering, and Medicine into Healthy Hospital Soundscapes” held Monday at the HEALTHCARE DESIGN.11 conference in Nashville.

The panel questioned what limitations and unknowns surround acoustics in healthcare environments, and delved into research from the Healthcare Acoustics Research Team (HART) that links design to measurements and outcomes.

Ryherd referenced a 2005 study that shows noise levels in the healthcare environment are only rising, an outcome HART found as well. As expected, differences between occupied and unoccupied spaces were significant. But the group further delved into what exactly impacts noise levels. At the high end, offenders include alarms, phones, cleaning equipment, and staff talking to one another, whereas HVAC systems came in as the least troubling cause of noise.

The next step in the research process shared by the HART members was whether the layout of a corridor matters to the overall soundscape—and, in fact, research shows it does. In 133 theoretical models created in 3-D acoustic software, proving to be the most important was the number of turns, corridor length, number of branches, and branch distance.

“Even very small changes in layout dramatically affect reverberation time,” Zimring says.

And while layout clearly affects noise levels in healthcare facilities, the panel also noted that materials play a significant role as well.