The future of intensive care units

Researchers have recently completed a ground-breaking study that links Intensive Care Unit (ICU) noise levels and the potential for improved patient recovery and reduced post-care trauma.

Completed in late 2022, the research was led by national design consultancy Hames Sharley in collaboration with a range of key experts to measure the average ambient noise of ICUs and develop new design solutions to minimise its effect on patients, staff and visitors.

Hames Sharley’s Head of Research and Development, Dr Emil Jonescu, said the research uncovered unique insights into the role ambient noise can play on our most vulnerable patients in ICUs, as well as visitors and clinicians.

“This was a lengthy and detailed study, involving a range of experts in healthcare, design, acoustics, statistics and quantity surveying – this was a true collaboration of amazing, diverse minds. The team looked at a range of factors, including the role of equipment position, furnishings, fittings, finishes and volumetric space on noise, as well as studying single-occupancy rooms, conducting detailed acoustic reporting and baseline noise level analysis (dB).

“We found that the average noise of an ICU far exceeded our expectations, however through some initially simple changes to room design, we were able to significantly reduce noise levels and their potential impact,” he said.

“The significance of this research is huge – we hope that by minimising noise, we may see improvements on patient recovery rates or post-illness trauma. After all, our environment can play a big part in the healing process and how we emotionally heal after a life-changing illness or accident.”

Dr Jonescu said the research findings identified significant and tangible benefits by making different design choices.

“We now know that we can reduce noise reverberation to the adjoining suite (at the patient’s ear) by 14 dB and still comply with current operating conditions and procedures for ICUs by making some design changes. We also discovered that we would be able to make an additional reduction through further design innovations in line with today’s requirements by intercepting direct noise transmission between equipment and patient.”

Dr Jonescu said that the findings would not have been possible without the expertise and collaboration from a wide range of key experts.

“Without the collaboration and support of a range of experts from a diverse background, these findings would not have been possible.

“Specifically, we thank researchers from Fiona Stanley Hospital (Perth); St John of God Hospital (Perth); Central Queensland University (Brisbane); University of Queensland (Brisbane); Gabriels Hearne Farrell, Sage Quantity Surveyors; and the Heart and Lung Research Institute of Western Australia,” he said.

Dr Jonescu said the team were now planning to take this research further and design the future-state ICU room and new elements using the knowledge gained to see how we can improve the use of space for both patients and clinicians.

Hames Sharley would like to recognise the important contribution of a range of key collaborators:

  • A/Prof. Ed Litton, Staff Specialist, Intensive Care Specialist and Director of ICU research at Fiona Stanley Hospital
  • Benjamin Farrell, Director, Gabriels Hearne Farrell
  • Giuseppe Costanzo, Director, Sage Quantity Surveyors
  • Chamil Erik Ramanayaka, School of Engineering and Technology, Central Queensland University
  • Rebecca Hahn, Nurse Researcher, Heart and Lung Research Institute of Western Australia (Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research)
  • Lori Delaney, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, University of Queensland
  • Janet Ferrier, Clinical Nurse Specialist Research ICU, St John of God Hospital Intensive Care Unit, Subiaco WA.

The research paper titled ‘Mitigating Intensive Care Unit Noise Disruption: Design-Led Modelling Solutions, Calculated Acoustic Outcomes, and Cost Implications’ is in the process of being submitted for publication and will be available in scientific journals.

Did you enjoy this article?