Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, has always received high marks from hospital rating programs. So, when their research showed a common thread in patient dissatisfaction, they knew something had to be done. Press Ganey patient surveys revealed time and again that their lowest score was “noise in and around the room.” To be proactive, the hospital installed a sound masking system in four of their patient rooms as a bit of an experiment. The goal was to increase the overall background noise level in a way that would be unnoticeable to patients, and thereby increase speech privacy and patient satisfaction as a result. After the Speech Privacy System was installed, the hospital staff noticed a difference, but had no way of quantifying the results.
Acoustics By Design was brought in to make detailed sound measurements and interpret the data. We started by comparing the background noise levels in the four effected rooms with the sound masking system turned off and then again with the system turned on. Detailed measurements were taken at multiple locations over a 48-hour period to get a representative sample of the sound levels during the day, evening, and nighttime.
Our noise study verified that the sound masking system made a positive difference in several areas. First, the data showed that by raising the overall background noise level, the system had increased speech privacy by “covering” some of the noise coming from the nurses’ stations. Next, we found that the consistency of the background noise “masked” some of the sound generated from the medical equipment in the rooms, and ultimately made the rooms more comfortable for patients. Finally, by raising the background noise levels, the sound masking system achieved measurable and positive results during the day, evening, and nighttime. Our findings gave the hospital the right information so they could make informed decisions on installing sound masking systems in other parts of their facility. After full implementation, most of the noise complaints went away and the overall patient satisfaction increased by 33%.