Noise is the source of frequent patient complaints. Not only it is annoying, but it can directly affect the well-being of occupants. Common noise sources such as staff conversations, double patient rooms, alarms, intercoms, pagers, and mechanical equipment can interrupt sleep and lead to higher stress levels. Additionally, prolonged exposure to noise can impair staff members’ reading comprehension, resulting in a higher risk for medical errors.

But is all noise bad? Do we want a space so quiet that we can hear a pin drop? A space can be too quiet, and not all noise impacts areas negatively. For example, some noise helps us relax and can mask other sounds.

Occupant complaints typically stem from the variability of noise that comes from other sources, such as those generated from outside the building and transmitted through the walls, staff talking in corridors, air handling units above ceilings, or alarms at nurses’ stations. Giving attention to the acoustic design of a space can resolve these issues.

Recognition of the importance of acoustics in healthcare facilities has undergone tremendous growth in recent years, especially as healthcare providers work toward improving HCAHPS scores due to their influence on reimbursements. Acoustic performance of a facility is directly related to nearly 10 percent of the survey questions.

Even with this growing interest, acoustics are still often overlooked during the design process.

In a panel discussion being held at the upcoming Healthcare Design Expo & Conference (Nov. 11-14, Orlando), "Designing Quiet Buildings” attendees will learn how to be proactive in designing for quiet, including consideration of background noise levels (mechanical system noise or other consistent noise sources), sound isolation (wall construction), and materials solutions (room finishes to absorb sound).

Additionally, it’s important to introduce operational strategies that will push acoustics beyond the design process. For example, emerging clinical models of involving patients and their families in all care planning conversations has contributed to improving the perception of noise that occurs during rounding while also increasing patient/family satisfaction.

Though these elements may sound simple, real-world applications will likely be more complex and require creative solutions specific for each case. Different spaces have different needs, and during the HCD Expo session, the speakers will demonstrate problem-solving ideas and application with a case study example. In addition to existing standards, including from the Facility Guidelines Institute and World Health Organization, to serve as a baseline, research studies will also be discussed to help determine where the well-being of occupants is affected by noise.

The session will be held from 9:45-10:45 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 13. For more information, visit

Ghina Itani, CHID, ASID, EDAC, is principal at Itani Design Concepts. Teri Lura Bennett, RN, CID, CHID, IIDA, EDAC, NIHD, is lead interior designer at John Hopkins Health System.