Let There Be Quiet

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What consistently gets the worst marks on hospital patient-satisfaction surveys? You guessed it: Noise. A short article in this morning’s WSJ describes how some hospitals and health systems are bringing the noise level down. Strategies include replacing paging systems with electronic wristbands or headsets, allowing patients to close doors and post Do Not Disturb signs, installing sound-absorbing tiles, raising the “white noise” level, and designating sleep times during which patients are not disturbed.

The most recent patient-satisfaction data from Medicare confirms that only 60% of patients said that the area outside their rooms was quiet at night, earning the lowest satisfaction score on the 27-question hospital-experience survey. Yet a good night’s sleep is an undisputed factor in maintaining and restoring health.

“There is a constant tension between the need to create a place where patients can rest and heal and the realities of an active and almost chaotic workplace,” Jason Wolf, Beryl Institute, is quoted as saying. Beryl Institute, a nonprofit that helps hospitals improve patient satisfaction scores, this month releases its 2013 State of Patient Experience report, which identifies noise reduction, discharge instructions, and hourly rounding as the three highest priority objectives to improve overall patient experience. The report is based on a survey of 1,072 respondents representing 672 unique institutions.

An overview of the report available on the firm’s web site identifies HCAHPS and motivated leadership as the two most important drivers in the movement to improve the patient experience. Although appointing a committee or a chief experience officer were the two most-oft cited strategies for improving patient experience, it clearly is not going to happen without the buy in and visibility of leadership on the issue.

Noise has plagued hospital patients for many years, but not until CMS tied reimbursement to patient satisfaction did it land on the priority list. Whether or not a quieter environment will be a factor in improving your patients’ health cannot be known without that double-blinded prospective study that will never happen. Nonetheless, if patients are going to get a better night sleep, leadership needs to make this a priority. Just don’t make them too comfortable, because you don’t want them to come back too soon—especially not within 30 days.