Acoustics in Healthcare Design

Posted by on Dec 5, 2019 in Behind the Design
Acoustics in Healthcare Design

Hospitals are noisy and bustling with activity. One of the most frequent complaints that patients have while in the hospital are noise levels, according to a survey by HCAHPS. Unwanted noise can increase patient stress levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and have a deleterious impact on their health.  

study from AECOM showed that when patients are exposed to unwanted noise, patient recovery is inhibited. Healthcare interior designers and architects can use various acoustic design methods to reduce unwanted noise in medical facilities. The World Health Organization recommends that noise not exceed 30 dB indoors. But how can designers help maintain this noise level? 

Materials Matter 

There are many factors that contribute to a space’s acoustics. In a hospital setting, this might include the humming of an AC unit, carts rolling through a hallway, pills rattling, etc. Furthermore, the kinds of materials used in patient rooms can amplify these sounds, acting as a multiplier to a space’s acoustics. Many materials used in hospitals are hard and therefore acoustically reflective. 

One way healthcare designers can reduce a space’s acoustic profile is to use sound-dampening materials. For example, using sound-absorbing ceiling and wall paneling can dampen the sound coming from elsewhere in the hospital. In the past, designers avoided such materials due to concerns about infection control and the materials’ ability to be washed effectively. But there are now many materials that can satisfy both needs.  

Engineering Interventions 

Air ducts and hospital equipment are huge contributors to unwanted noise. To combat that, engineers can enlarge air ducts. Altering their size decreases friction rates and reduces rattling. It also reduces energy consumption which is a win-win. Additionally, stand-alone equipment that vibrates can be placed on spring isolators reduces noises made by their vibration.  

Another method the design team can implement is to reduce electrical conduits, plumbing, and outlets as each one creates a hole in the wall. When they are necessary, acoustical sealants and liners can be added to dampen transfer noises. 

Hospital Layout for Acoustics 

The layout of a hospital also impacts noise levels. Certain areas of a hospital, such as HVAC plant rooms and public areas, generate a disproportionate amount of noise. Architects and Designers can develop a design that isolates high-noise areas from noise-sensitive sections. This can be one of the most difficult recommendations to implement because it can be costly and space intensive.

Hospitals generate a great deal of noise, but those noises don’t have to be detrimental to patients. Reducing unwanted noises should be a top priority for the healthcare design team because it can have a significant impact on patient wellbeing. 

Marie Wikoff is the creator of Wikoff Design Studio based out of Reno, Nevada. Her expertise in healthcare design has helped modernize healthcare organizations locally, regionally, and internationally, improving patient experience and outcomes. Her credentials include Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC), American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designer (CHID), the National Council of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) and LEED AP. Contact Marie Wikoff


Lagasse, Jeff. “Everybody’s Top Complaint about Hospitals? Noise, According to HCAHPS Data.” Healthcare Finance News, 2017, 

Boglev, Danny. “The Silent Healer: Acoustic Design in Health Environments.” You Are Being Redirected…, 2019, 

Maria, Hedda. “Healthcare Acoustics – The Use of Acoustic Ceiling Tiles to Control Reverberation Times.” LinkedIn, 2018, 

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