Susan E. Mazer, Ph.D. Blog

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Hi, and welcome to my blog! I'm Susan E. Mazer -- a knowledge expert and thought leader on how the environment of care impacts the patient experience. Topics I write about include safety, satisfaction, hospital noise, nursing, care at the bedside, and much more. Subscribe below to get email notices so you won't miss any great content.

Addressing Hospital Noise: How to Create a Sound Quality Committee

August 1, 2014

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-group-people-various-occupations-meeting-image41013985Creating a Sound Quality Committee is one of the best strategies to address hospital noise. It’s also a good way to put accountability for the sound environment on those who have direct contact with patients. But who should be on the committee, how do you recruit them, and what should they do?

Those on the committee should include nurses, housekeepers, volunteers, facility managers, lab techs, radiology techs, dietary techs, etc. Each person who walks into a patient room is accountable for the quality of the environment.

And, as Florence Nightingale said, each person has the opportunity and obligation to manipulate the environment to be therapeutic.  In addition to diversity in roles, diversity in shifts is also needed.

Who & How to Recruit

Members of the Sound Quality Committee should be proactive and committed to looking at the challenges (like broken door closers, noisy carts, monitors that need adjustment, etc.) and finding solutions. Just by participating, they will become better advocates for improving the patient experience.

Once you decide to establish this committee, the next task is to find early adopters, those for whom noise has been a personal issue — zealots that would work hard to improve the sound environment of your hospital.

First, decide on who will chair the committee (there can be co-chairs), so you have a central voice of scheduling, etc.  It could be a nurse, since nurses have the most contact with patients.

However, this is really about who wants the task and who will do the job with the most passion and commitment.  And, if this is you, then you are it.

Then, put notice in your staff newsletter about the purpose of the committee and ask for volunteers members for every department.

If you don’t get people from each department, have the committee chair call and/or email the director of that department and explain the benefits of participation and critical it is that his/her department is represented.

However many you get the first time around, go through with creating the committee. If, for instance, you get all nurses, then that is where you start.  You can recruit others after you have begun your work.

What to Do Next

Schedule the first meeting, possibly over lunch, since most people can schedule lunch.  Have a meeting no less than once a month, with communication via email in-between to build momentum.  Once you have done some work, you may only need to meet every quarter.

Here are six are steps for the committee to take:

1.  Assess the Sound Environment:  How noisy is it?  These are real-time measures, including decibel levels and perceived levels.  Remember, a decibel meter is like a scale:  it only measures on thing and tells only 10% of the story.

Determine an effective protocol for initial assessment of the sound environment.  Include details on the sources of noise and contributing factors.  Also, make sure you cover each unit over the full 24-hour cycle.

2.  Establish Sound Standards: After the data has been collected, the committee should establish qualitative sound standards that can be measured and maintained. Do this for each unit.

3. Establish Equipment Maintenance and Purchasing Standards:  This is about fixing the squeaky wheel.  Once sound standards or goals have been set, recommendations should be made for modifying equipment, changing staff practice, and altering purchasing policies.

4. Be the Patient Advocate: To make decisions about noise levels of patient-appropriate equipment, evaluate the patient’s capacity to manage auditory stimuli. Monitors may need to be adjusted or auditory protection added to equipment.

5. Educate the Staff:  We learn from didactic information exchange and learn more from observation.  Your committee members must walk their talk.

They must model standards and empower others to provide feedback. This includes standards for private or confidential discussions in public areas; use and methods of paging; and use of cell phones, nurse call systems, and the telephone.

6. Measure Results (HCAHPS, patient satisfaction, and more):  These measures are always relative, but you will find you do have some control over them.  Noise has the highest correlation between HCAHPS scores.

After you’ve completed step six, start over.  Refresh your committee, cultivate new members, and promote the activities and outcomes to generate excitement and grow your healing culture.

Without question, changing the “sound” of an organization is changing the culture of the organization.  Like a family, some are naturally loud and others, quiet.  Being intentional in designing the sound environment is taking a major step in improving not only the patient experience, but creating a healing culture.

For more detailed information on each of these steps, download the white paper, “Hospital Noise and the Patient Experience:  Seven Ways to Create and Maintain a Quieter Environment,” or view the “Curing the Noise Epidemic” presentation.

Also, contact us if you’re interested in a webinar presentation of this information.

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