Health Care FMs Have to Protect Privacy and Intelligibility

By Karen Kroll  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: How Health Care Facility Managers Cure Four Acoustical ChallengesPt. 2: This PagePt. 3: Vibration, Other Noises Cause Health Care Acoustical Problems

2. Protecting Privacy

Health care facility managers should be aware of HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable information. "Hospitals need to be leery of violating patients' privacy rights," Harrison says. Patient, procedure and consultation rooms need to be designed so that they provide speech privacy, he adds.

This doesn't mean that rooms need to be soundproof, but that speech is unintelligible, Shen says. Other occupants may be aware of a conversation, but are unable to decipher what's being said.

One solution is to raise the background sound level in the room through the introduction of masking sound. Sound masking makes it more difficult to hear other sounds or decipher others' conversations. The use of masking sound is generally less expensive than embarking on construction projects to eliminate or reduce the noise itself.

Many of the tools used for noise control, such as upgraded wall construction, absorptive finishes, and sound masking, can help provide speech privacy. Another option is what's known as mass-loaded vinyl, which absorbs sound, Ramirez says. It can be hung between the deck and the ceiling to provide sound isolation between rooms in which there is an open plenum. Some manufacturers provide ceiling tiles that come with mass-loaded vinyl or acoustical backing.

To really achieve speech privacy, Harrison typically recommends that private areas be separated from public areas; simply using dividers won't suffice.


Sound Advice

>> Sound & Vibration: Design Guidelines for Health Care provides guidelines on the acoustical environment within health care settings. Some states adopt these guidelines as code, says Seth Harrison, an acoustics engineer with KJWW. Find it at: www.fgiguidelines.org/interim_pubs.html

Constant Alarms Becoming a Noise Problem

>> A type of noise that's been capturing attention recently is "clinical alarm fatigue." Some reports indicate that an alarm goes off every ten seconds in a hospital, says Seth Harrison, an acoustics engineer with KJWW. Reducing the number of alarms may enhance patients' experience. One way to mitigate clinical alarm fatigue is through wall and door construction that isolates the sound.

Some solutions are non-acoustical, says Benjamin Davenny, a senior consultant in acoustics with Acentech. For instance, providing better training to the nurses that apply sensors should mean that fewer will detach from the patient or otherwise malfunction. An alarm management system can direct an alarm just to the medical professionals working with a specific patient. In addition, staff can examine the level of alarms that are necessary, says Gina Ramirez, an acoustical engineer with HDR.

"The goal is to only sound alarms when there's a real problem," Davenny says.

— Karen Kroll

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  posted on 10/14/2011   Article Use Policy

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