Factors affecting acoustics and speech intelligibility in the operating room: Size matters

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9 Scopus citations


INTRODUCTION: Noise in health care settings has increased since 1960 and represents a significant source of dissatisfaction among staff and patients and risk to patient safety. Operating rooms (ORs) in which effective communication is crucial are particularly noisy. Speech intelligibility is impacted by noise, room architecture, and acoustics. For example, sound reverberation time (RT 60) increases with room size, which can negatively impact intelligibility, while room objects are hypothesized to have the opposite effect. We explored these relationships by investigating room construction and acoustics of the surgical suites at our institution. METHODS: We studied our ORs during times of nonuse. Room dimensions were measured to calculate room volumes (V R). Room content was assessed by estimating size and assigning items into 5 volume categories to arrive at an adjusted room content volume (V C) metric. Psychoacoustic analyses were performed by playing sweep tones from a speaker and recording the impulse responses (ie, resulting sound fields) from 3 locations in each room. The recordings were used to calculate 6 psychoacoustic indices of intelligibility. Multiple linear regression was performed using V R and V C as predictor variables and each intelligibility index as an outcome variable. RESULTS: A total of 40 ORs were studied. The surgical suites were characterized by a large degree of construction and surface finish heterogeneity and varied in size from 71.2 to 196.4 m 3 (average V R = 131.1 [34.2] m 3). An insignificant correlation was observed between V R and V C (Pearson correlation = 0.223, P =.166). Multiple linear regression model fits and β coefficients for V R were highly significant for each of the intelligibility indices and were best for RT 60 (R 2 = 0.666, F(2, 37) = 39.9, P <.0001). For D max (maximum distance where there is <15% loss of consonant articulation), both V R and V C β coefficients were significant. For RT 60 and D max, after controlling for V C, partial correlations were 0.825 (P <.0001) and 0.718 (P <.0001), respectively, while after controlling for V R, partial correlations were -0.322 (P =.169) and 0.381 (P <.05), respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that the size and contents of an OR can predict a range of psychoacoustic indices of speech intelligibility. Specifically, increasing OR size correlated with worse speech intelligibility, while increasing amounts of OR contents correlated with improved speech intelligibility. This study provides valuable descriptive data and a predictive method for identifying existing ORs that may benefit from acoustic modifiers (eg, sound absorption panels). Additionally, it suggests that room dimensions and projected clinical use should be considered during the design phase of OR suites to optimize acoustic performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1978-1985
Number of pages8
JournalAnesthesia and analgesia
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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