Noise Reduction in Hospitals: A remedy for all ills

Posted 03 November, 2016 in Hospitals and Healthcare

Beeping machines, ringing phones, overhead announcements – these are the familiar sounds of a busy hospital.

But excessive noise heavily impacts patient satisfaction scores. In fact, it's the second worst performing area, after communication about medicines, as monitored by Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS)*.


Hospital noise affects the wellbeing and recovery of patients, and the wellbeing and performance of staff. And both have negative cost implications.

It's hardly surprising that communications, in all its guises, is one of the main contributors to a hospital's hubbub. Keeping physicians, clinicians and care teams up-to-date on important news and policies – especially during an emergency – is a critical function. There's no room for poor communication. The consequences are severe.

Press Ganey, the third party appointed to measure hospital standards in the U.S., states that the average US hospital receives a quietness score of '54' – right at the bottom of all ten survey indicators. Patients typically complain about noise almost twice as much as anything else -- including the food. In response, many hospitals are looking at different communication techniques, and specifically, ways to replace one of the worst noise offenders: overhead announcements.

New York healthcare provider ArchCare recently introduced a new, silent messaging system whereby messages can get through quietly, without the need for noisy overhead announcements. The organization now uses highly visual tools – such as desktop alerts, tickers and screensavers – to push information direct to staff computers and workstations.

These communication channels work well in environments where time is short yet message cut-through is critical – and patients are not disturbed.

There are other means of communication that are proving to be effective for hospitals, as well.

For general awareness-building messages, screensavers are surprisingly effective. They work well for important reminders, such as hand hygiene, patient confidentiality, and ethical conduct. Hospital administrators regularly comment that the passive format of a screensaver belies their powerful message cut-through.

Another effective communication technique is deploying color-coded alerts and tickers for different situations: code yellow = missing patient; code blue = cardiac arrest; and code red = fire. Staff can immediately react with the appropriate response.

For urgent, critical broadcasts, alerts can appear full screen, overriding any other display that's on the workstation computer. This format can carry significantly more detail than any overhead announcement, and can include links to other resources for further information. For less urgent but still important messages - such as regular updates on the number of ER patients – ticker bars can deliver up-to-the minute information in a scrolling newsfeed format.

For times when readership must be guaranteed – such as when a new process or policy is being introduced – it's a good idea to repeat or keep a message on screen until the employee has seen and acted on the information. By the same token, asking recipients to confirm receipt of a message provides useful tracking data.

During a crisis, the ability to publish messages instantaneously is invaluable. Critical time can be saved by producing a series of messages in advance (i.e., notifications about IT outages, hazardous spills, or if there is an aggressive person on site).

Real-time success reporting has become a "must have," revealing how each communication tactic is performing. This exposes open-rates, click-throughs and interactions, and helps to identify any gaps.

With greater emphasis now being placed on improving HCAHPS quiet scores, it's a good time to review existing communication channels and assess options that are noiseless but get the job done. A quieter environment that doesn't compromise communication cut-through will be appreciated by patients, visitors and staff.


*As recorded by Press Ganey, a third party appointed to report on HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) measures across more than 60% of all U.S. hospitals. The worst performing area is "Communication about medicines."


Originally published on Becker's Hospital Review


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Hospitals and Healthcare

Susan Bowden

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Susan Bowden is Marketing Manager at SnapComms, a world-leading provider of digital internal communication tools.