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Increased Importance of Quieting Intensive Care Units

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Recently I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. To be honest, I don't regularly listen to her show, but this one caught my attention because it was about hospital intensive care units and the subject matter had direct implications for the design of ICU's.

Those of you who are designers of ICU’s may be interested in listening to the episode ( Diane Rehm moderated a discussion among physicians, researchers, and nurses that are on the leading edge of ICU treatment. They discuss the ways in which ICU patient care has been changing and, in particular, they focus on the long-term impact of stays in the ICU, the re-evaluation of the importance of patient comfort, reducing the amount of time during which patients are sedated, and minimizing the administration of pain medication. There are several facility design implications, but as an acoustical consultant, the implication most of interest to me is the necessity of improving the acoustical environment. The guests on the show talk about the fact that reducing the amount of time that patients are sedated has increased the importance of providing a comfortable physical environment. With less sedation, patients are more easily disturbed by noise; and ICU’s are generally not quiet.

To me, these changes in ICU care are further evidence of the need to apply the acoustical guidelines contained in the 2010 FGI-ASHE Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities. The guidelines address the need for sound absorbing finishes, use of acoustically rated partitions, HVAC systems noise control, intrusion of exterior noise, and other issues impacting the acoustical environment in and around patient rooms. Following these Guidelines when designing new ICU’s is a good first step to creating a quieter, less disturbing environment for ICU patients.

Whether you’re located in Chicago or elsewhere, if you are designing a new hospital facility or need an acoustical expert to help assess noise in an existing facility, you can contact me at Soundscape Engineering (