If you’ve been to your doctor’s office lately, you might have been allowed to listen to a conversation between a doctor and another patient. You didn’t even need to be in the room with them. The sound isolation between many exam rooms can be so poor that you can hear virtually everything that is said next door, or in the corridor.

Doctors and nurses, who are aware of the problem, may complain multiple times to hospital administrators about it. Apparently, the issue isn’t on everyone’s radar.

Will they have to endure paying HIPAA statutory fines, or suffer through a HIPAA speech privacy lawsuit before corrective action is taken? Failure to comply with HIPAA can result in civil and criminal penalties (42 USC § 1320d-5). Fortunately, the 2014 FGI Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Healthcare Facilities, and Residential Healthcare Facilities, incorporate speech privacy requirements, so there’s an objective standard to follow during design and construction.

Proper sound isolation is most effectively incorporated into the original design or tenant fit-out. After a space is occupied, not only does the corrective renovation work cost more, but there is also potential lost work time for the occupants and the inconvenience of co-existing with the construction noise and dust. Sound masking systems can be an effective means to improve speech privacy for existing facilities, when construction isn’t a viable option. It seems a wise move to include appropriate sound isolation as an integral part of the original design instead of waiting for tenant complaints, or worse yet, a lawsuit.

Recently, Acoustics By Design was asked by a healthcare facility to help them address their speech privacy issues, in a brand new building. They haven’t been there very long, but already the complaints from the practitioners and patients have been stacking up. Estimates for correction of the existing trouble spots are expected to be anywhere from 2-4 times as much as it would have cost to design and build the facility properly in the first place.

At Acoustics By Design, we work with architects and health care professionals to design spaces that provide acoustic privacy and confidentiality for patients. We take HIPAA speech privacy concerns seriously, follow the FGI Guidelines, and urge all health care providers and facility designers to do the same.

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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