The issue of excessive noise in healthcare facilities is indeed complicated. Patients need a calm, peaceful environment in which to heal, and loud noises certainly are at odds with that concept. While architectural and design choices can be made to lower the general noise level -- high-performance sound-absorbing materials in floors, ceilings, and walls are examples -- perhaps the most important and effective step a healthcare organization can take is to create a “culture of quiet” among its staff on all levels.
The noises that are generally most disruptive to patients are those that are sudden or unexpected. For example, patients expect to hear some routine equipment noise, such as a steady, low-level beep from a monitor, carts rolling by, or quiet conversation outside the patient room.
But in a healthcare setting, fear of the unknown reigns. When an alarm goes unanswered for minute after minute, patients are rightfully disturbed. Even if the cause is minor, a patient likely has no idea why an alarm is sounding, and that not knowing can cause anxiety, even panic.
When a shift change hits the nurses' station, conversations can suddenly increase, shaking patients from a restful mood. This is where the healthcare facility can look to create its culture of quiet. Any spike in volume—especially one with potential negativity behind it—is to be avoided if at all possible. Extended conversations between caregivers should take place at low volume and in a private location. Alarms should be attended to immediately. Heavily closing doors and latches, rattling carts, loud televisions—all should be considered potential disturbances.
Many noises in the healthcare setting simply can't be helped. But just as many can be prevented simply by training the people working there to be aware of the noise levels around them. After all, any building is only as quiet as the people who occupy it.