Few components of healthcare design, whether it is the design of physical space or of internal processes and procedures, are as difficult to achieve as noise control. Despite facility type or size, it's a daily challenge.

The inherent sounds that go along with delivering care are tough to tackle and can include everything from conversations between patients and staff, to the beeps and buzzes of machines, to the sounds of carts and equipment wheeling across corridors.

And yet the number of challenges associated with keeping hospitals and other facilities quiet are likely matched by the number of benefits that accomplishing that goal provides.

There’s the obvious, of course: patient satisfaction and battling the trend of "pay for performance." But there’s also the connection that’s been found between noise levels and clinical outcomes.

To help stifle the problem, The Beryl Institute and the Making Hospitals Quiet program partnered to conduct a joint research study that yielded a recently released white paper, “Charting a Course to Quiet: Addressing the Challenge of Noise in Hospitals,” by Jason A. Wolf, PhD, executive director, The Beryl Institute, and Gary S. Madaras, PhD, director, Making Hospitals Quiet.

The project was initiated in response to findings of The Beryl Institute’s 2011 benchmarking study, "The State of Patient Experience in American Hospitals," in which the number one response by those asked what the top priorities were for their organization’s patient experience efforts was noise reduction.

As part of this recent effort, more than 240 hospitals were surveyed regarding their own efforts to reduce noise, asking them the following:

  • What processes are hospitals putting in place to address this issue?
  • How are they structuring their efforts?
  • Where in their facilities are they focusing their attention?
  • What kind of success are they realizing?

Of the respondents, 90% have recognized that a noise problem exists, but only 66% have dome some assessment of their existing environment to better understand the issues, while fewer than 60% have initiated some part of a noise plan.

While a majority of respondents (more than 65%) indicated they were motivated by the primary driver of patient satisfaction and Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) to address noise issues, 64% responded that roadblocks to addressing the issue were encountered thanks to higher or differing priorities, as well as 50% reporting a lack of leadership.

And for those actively working to solve the problem, the top-reported challenge encountered in the process was behavior change and culture.

While there may not be a budget in place for new acoustical panels or a shift to decentralized nursing stations, getting buy-in from the top down to think about the auditory environment and the effect every person can have on it, as well as what kind of feasible plan can be put into place, sounds like a pretty decent start.

To download the white paper, visit: http://www.theberylinstitute.org/?page=PUBS.