I just published an article in FacilityCare magazine called “Creating the Quiet Zone: Specifying sound masking for healthcare” (flip to page 34). In it, I talk about the features you should take into account if you’re specifying sound masking for a healthcare project, particularly a hospital. Many of the criteria are the same as for other kinds of facilities, but there are ways in which this environment differs, and I’d like to highlight a few of their more critical requirements.
First, the size of the sound masking adjustment zones is vital. Hospitals are highly fragmented, closed spaces and you need to be able to commission each room individually – for both volume and frequency – not only to achieve an effective masking sound, but to accommodate personal preferences and needs as noise levels or speech privacy requirements change. If a zone overlaps two or more rooms, you’ll need to make a compromise, sacrificing either comfort or performance in one or more of the patient rooms. You don’t need to do this with a contemporary sound masking system. Zones consisting of just one loudspeaker are easily achieved.
Second, you must be able to make volume adjustments in fine increments to best match the required masking level throughout the space (regardless of how the sound is affected by the design, furnishings, and so on) and make subtle adjustments according to personal needs. Coarse volume controls, even if they’re attached to each loudspeaker, aren't sufficient because they rarely improve conditions. The adjustment offered (usually around 3 dB) is simply too large.
Finally, you have to be able to make local changes without accessing the ceiling. In other types of facilities, it might be acceptable (though inconvenient) to open a ceiling tile and make a localized volume change. In hospitals, it’s simply not possible. Contamination and cleanliness rules usually prohibit opening a suspended tile without first taking isolation measures. Fortunately, networked masking systems offer the ability to adjust local zones from a point that’s below the ceiling (using a control panel or computer software).
But you’ll likely need to go one step further because you don’t want to give full system control to all staff members. One option is to provide a volume control in each patient room (using a programmable keypad or rotary knob), allowing the patient, guests or staff to make changes. Note that if you use a programmable keypad for this purpose, you can also limit the range of volume control occupants have – even customize the minimum and maximum setting for each room.
Another approach is to centralize this volume control function by providing it at the nursing stations (using third-party control equipment, perhaps with a touch screen), so that staff can select the desired room and make the change.
We’re about to launch a new option we've developed for individual patient room control. Visit our site in the upcoming weeks to learn more!