Noise reduction in hospitals: the value of patient experience surveys

The value of patient experience surveys is intuitive to consumers, who are definitely interested in what other patients think about their doctors and hospitals. Providers are not always enthusiastic –the lament I’ve heard more than once from highly-trained physicians is that they will get dinged because a patient doesn’t like the food. I fully understand why doctors feel this way: the typical patient isn’t in a position to judge a physician’s clinical skill and no one wants to be judged.

Yet patient experience is a very important concept and can make a significant difference to patient care and comfort. A case in point is hospitals’ recent emphasis on reducing noise, as described in today’s Wall Street Journal. If you’ve been a patient or even a visitor in a hospital you know that noise comes with the territory. Sound comes from PA systems, pagers, equipment, televisions, and conversations among staff and visitors. It makes it hard to sleep or relax, and that can’t be good for the healing process.

A few enlightened hospitals have taken this issue on over the past several years, but noise reduction entered the mainstream quite suddenly a year ago when Medicare started factoring in patient experience in reimbursement. Noise is the biggest issue on patient experience surveys, so it’s been an obvious place for hospitals to focus.

Hospitals have quieted pagers, turned down alarms, trained staff to be quieter and provided noise cancellation devices to patients. These fixes aren’t terribly complex or expensive but they can make a difference. Like anything in health care, the issues are a little more complex. Alarms and pagers are there for a reason. And there are potential tradeoffs between materials that absorb sound and those that are easy to disinfect.

Still, it’s a good thing that hospitals are focusing on noise reduction. And without patient experience surveys it would not have happened.

June 11, 2013

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