For years, the healthcare industry has used patient satisfaction surveys to gauge hospital performance and to identify ways for improving the healing environment. And the industry’s standard surveyor, Press Ganey Satisfaction Surveys, has always shown the number one patient complaint to be “noise in or around the room.” As acoustical consultants, we know that noise plays an important role in patient and staff satisfaction, but measuring just how much of an affect has always been difficult. Until now.

The ideal way to measure the relationship between noise and satisfaction levels would be to do a before and after study. The study would need to measure noise levels and survey patient satisfaction in a “normal” healthcare facility (one without acoustical treatment) and then repeat the same measurements in a similar, but acoustically optimized, space to compare the results. Well, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, we did just that.

Acoustics By Design worked with BSA LifeStructures and the hospital to complete the initial study in the existing Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Focusing on the physical environment and its relation to family and staff satisfaction, an extensive amount of data was researched, recorded, and observed over a 48-hour period. Noise levels were measured and satisfaction surveys were completed by parents and hospital staff.

After recording and analyzing the data, we turned our focus to the hospital’s brand new NICU. The new NICU had been built with acoustical improvements including: lower patient density, noise barrier partitions, and increased sound absorption. We repeated the same measurements and surveys to compare the results. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Average noise levels decreased by 6 decibels
  • Number of family members “extremely satisfied” with noise levels increased 18%
  • Not a single family member surveyed in the new NICU was dissatisfied with the noise
  • Number of staff “very satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with noise levels increased 45%

The results of this extensive study garnered the attention of the Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo, and we were asked to present our findings at this year’s Symposium at Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois. On October 2nd, 2009, Acoustics By Design’s Nate Sevener presented the study with Julie Kern of BSA LifeStructures and Victoria Navarro of Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The presentation focused on the research process and methodologies and on the results of the NICU comparisons including minute-by-minute observational notes, noise levels, and satisfaction surveys. Our findings were clear: noise plays a central role in satisfaction, and optimizing healthcare facilities for acoustics is a critical factor in improving the environment.

ABD Engineering and Design

ABD Engineering and Design is one of North America’s leading independent acoustical consulting and AV design firms, serving clients across the United States and Canada, as well as other international markets from offices in Grand Rapids, MI and Portland, OR. Our specialized acoustical engineering and AV design practices help architects, building owners, engineers, facility directors, and municipalities design spaces, environments, and systems for optimal acoustical and audiovisual performance. Our consulting practice areas specialize in all aspects of architectural acoustics, environmental and industrial noise and vibration control, and audiovisual systems design.

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