If you stand in the hallway of a hospital unit, what do you hear?

On any given day, most facilities’ floors are filled with an array of noises caused by paging, code alerts, medical equipment, footsteps, and conversations. Yet there’s an increased awareness that such sounds, if left unchecked, can be harmful to the health of patients, staff, and healthcare organizations.

The latest research reveals that noise in healthcare settings can prevent patients from sleeping and increase their stress and blood pressure—all of which might have a negative impact on recovery. Furthermore, noisy hospital environments typically receive lower ratings from patients on the HCAHPS survey. Since HCAHPS scores are directly related to reimbursement rates, this means that noise can impact the financial status of an organization.

Noisy healthcare environments can also be detrimental to staff members. Studies have found that hospital noise often reduces employee productivity and efficiency, lowering their overall job satisfaction and leading to higher turnover rates.

Built environment strategies
With so much at stake, providers are looking for solutions to help keep noise at a minimum. The good news is that today, there are a number of strategies that can be implemented to manage noise levels and create a more healing space. These include incorporating smart design, utilizing materials that reduce the transfer of sound, and masking unpleasant noises with more soothing ones.

Design features that can be integrated into the built environment to help keep noise to a minimum include:

  • Designating more single-patient rooms to enhance privacy and minimize interruptions from other patients, visitors, or staff members
  • Decentralizing nurses’ stations to limit staff conversations and support a more soothing setting
  • Building shorter hallways, which can prevent noise from traveling down corridors and into patient rooms
  • Moving headwalls to keep sounds from carrying between rooms with shared headwalls
  • Replacing overhead loudspeakers and ringing phones with staff pagers or vibrating cell phones to minimize interruptions to patients’ rest.

Materials strategies to help absorb sound and create a quieter space include using carpeting on floors instead of tile to help minimize noise in high-traffic areas and investing in acoustic wall coverings and ceiling tiles in EDs and patient rooms to keep sound from traveling.

Music, water features, nature sounds, and white noise can all help distract from other noise and help patients relax.

The right balance
When it comes to implementing these and other noise control efforts, it can be tempting to make the ultimate goal the elimination of all sounds in a healthcare environment. But it’s possible to take efforts too far.

The reality is that when a facility is too quiet, it can allow disturbing sounds (such as people crying out in pain, upset family members, or emergency alarms or procedures) to become more obvious, upsetting other patients. It’s important to identify the right balance for a space in order to create an optimal environment.

And while built environment solutions will help facilities make noise control progress, it’s helpful to set environmental policies to increase effectiveness, too. For instance, establishing quiet times in the evenings to help patients sleep, limiting non-essential clinical visits overnight, and providing staff training on how best to keep noise to a minimum can all contribute to positive outcomes.


Lisa D. Ellis is a freelance writer for The Center for Health Design. She can he reached at admin@healthdesign.org. This information has been curated from The Center for Health Design’s resources and tools. Visit www.healthdesign.org for more information.