June 12, 2013

With 'quiet kits' and 'quiet teams,' hospitals bring down the racket

Daily Briefing

Hospitals are taking innovative steps—from offering "quiet kits" to installing white-noise machines—to bring down noise levels in a broader effort to improve patient outcomes and experiences, the Wall Street Journal's Laura Landro reports.

Why hospitals are focusing on noise levels

According to a Beryl Institute report released in April, hospital administrators ranked noise reduction as their top priority for bettering scores on CMS's patient experience surveys. Their scores on these surveys, as well as their quality outcomes, determine 1% of hospitals' Medicare payments under the government's Value-Based Purchasing program.

"There is a constant tension in hospitals between the need to create a place where patients can rest and heal and the realities of an active and almost chaotic work environment," Beryl President Jason Wolf told Landro. He added that noise will never be eradicated, but hospitals are attempting to "counteract it" as much as they can.

Noise is not just annoying, Landro notes. It can disturb sleep, cause spikes in blood pressure, and interfere with pain management. In contrast, complete silence can be isolating and cause stress, according to Gary Madaras, director of Making Hospitals Quiet.

"We encourage clients to stop chasing silence and increase the ratio of good sounds to bad noises," Madaras told Landro. He added that the sickest patients "want to get quality sleep but want to feel connected to their caregivers and know that they are not far away" in case of a medical emergency.

Noise consulting services—which can cost up to $50,000—can elevate patient satisfaction scores enough to increase Medicare payments by $100,000 to $150,000 over three years, Madaras says.

How some hospitals are bringing down the noise

At 39 Dignity Health facilities, "quiet teams" of staff members identify sources of and solutions to common noise makers. In response, some Dignity hospitals are reducing the volume and frequency of medical alarms or replacing pagers with mobile headsets. Patients also receive "quiet kits" that contain headsets for TVs and iPads and white noise machines.

The additions have improved patient satisfaction scores on noise levels, Dignity's Tracy Sklar told Landro.

At Baylor Health Care's Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas, workers are installing white-noise machines in halls and common areas (Landro, "The Informed Patient," Wall Street Journal, 6/10).

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