This is the future of hospital sounds

This? Or this? Welcome to the future of hospital sound… because this musician is redesigning the noises we hear in them. Yoko K. Sen is the brains behind the Sen Sound Project, a social enterprise company that has collected data and research on the various noises that we hear in patient care environments. Her artistic imagination through sound design came from years of performing on the international scene, while giving lectures on sensory experience through sound, but her life changed when she experienced her first extended ER care. I was connected to, you know, 3 or 4 medical devices like an IV pump, and each of them kind of keeps beeping. As a musician, I hear every sound as a musical note, so if I hear ambulance outside, I kind of hear, okay, it’s A, and Doppler, and it’s going to G. I hear everything that way, so in that particular experience, 3 devices, and I noticed it was creating this dissonant harmony. We call it tri-tone, and it’s the kind of harmony that in medieval times, people described it as devil’s music. It was that particular harmony, and I don’t
think it was intentional, right? Like who’d intend that to happen in hospitals? Here’s a general consensus on how people feel about hospital environments. Cold. Sterile. Bleak. Worrying. Emotionless. Recent surveys show patients rate noise as one of the leading complaints in hospital care. Overall affecting their patient care experience. So it’s no surprise that Sen Sound caught the interests from some of the major innovators in the medical and design fields, including
Stanford X Medicine, IDEO, and Sibley Innovation Hub, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine, one of the nation’s leading research hospitals. I think what we are is what happens when you get people who are really, really inquisitive about the world, and about people, and want to understand emotions, and needs, and behaviors, and use that inquisitiveness to think about healthcare really differently, right? We are this incredible space and team of designers and technologists that get to reimagine healthcare, to try to make it more human, more desirable, and we try to think a lot about what the future of healthcare ought to be, and we get to make it real, in a real hospital. But in order to fix this malady of sound, the root causes had to be explored. One of the areas we were rated on as an industry is how quiet it is at night. And there’s a laser focus in the industry to try to figure that out and be better at it. I think there’s some best practices out there, but largely nobody has rethought it from the beginning. I think it’s just been ways to dampen sound. And then there’s the staff experience, and anybody who has ever worked on inpatient care will talk about alarm fatigue and say, after one machine starts beeping, and then you hear beeping from a different machine, and you do that day in and day out, eventually, it’s not that you want to become desensitized to it. It’s just literally, your brain starts to tune it out. And then I think there’s the piece that really felt most compelling for us, is what is it like for a patient? What is it that you’re hearing if you lie
in a hospital bed for hours or days, and how does that effect your overall healing and experience? Yoko really made it feel very real. Somehow sound is something so subconscious, and it’s an effect on our emotions and well-being. It’s so subconscious that I think it tends
to get overlooked somehow. We had a fun afternoon once, where Yoko put on a concert using music, and beats, and tones that were inspired by biorhythms, so somebody breathing into a microphone as their breath, and she sampled it for everybody, and then using heart rate or pulse as the beat for it. And it’s the kind of thing where it may not be the final solution, and I’m sure isn’t, but to the people who experienced it, kind of grew their box a little bit, and said, “Oh, wow. Imagine if somebody laying in bed could create their own music in some way.” So these little ripple effects calls the entire organization to just think more broadly. Engineering the Sen Sound experience has been challenging yet richly rewarding for Yoko and her team. Sound, according to Yoko, is not prioritized
as much as visual experiences in our culture and society, therefore creating a disconnect. Often times the reaction we get is, “Oh, sound. I just never thought about that.” We have to kind of ask, “How did you sleep
last night? Oh, okay. You didn’t sleep. Well, was there anything that disturbed you?” It’s very diverse from person to person, even on the same unit around the same time. Some people really like quiet, silent environment, but there is a significant number of people who don’t like quiet. They like their TV on. If it’s quiet, that make them think of death. It’s very anxiety-inducing. In terms of sound that people wish to hear, we get lots of sound of nature, and I think nature is everything that people expect a
hospital isn’t. That sense of openness, wind on your face, the sound of ocean, sound of water, something that reminds people of life, something that’s not clinical. That’s almost like a scent that fills the
space as a part of environment, or architecture, or ecosystem of sensory experience. People could actually walk from here and come out like this and have a seat We are in the tranquility room. Initially, Nick asked me to transform this
spacial room into a space where people can imagine the future of a sound and sensory experience, mainly for patients. As I was setting up the room, my friends who are nurses came to stop by, and they are like, “Wow. This is so relaxing here. I wish I could just come.” Staff members don’t really have a place they can go to relax before the shift, after the shift, even during the shift when there are stressful moments. Some of the nurses told me, “Oh, I just go
to a bathroom to be alone.” I think healthcare stuff gets treated almost like a part of the system, almost like a commodity. As a patient, I believe that the heart of
patient experience is really the compassionate interaction with staff members, especially
nurses. If we could help take care of them who take care of patients, ultimately I think we are making everybody’s experience better. My vision is really to take holistic approach to the sound environment, and I wish it’s as simple as, hey, here’s a device, and we
press the button, and everything is fine. Unfortunately, it’s not the case, so there
are lots of existing sources of noise, and it’s not just the alarms. Some of that is a behavior issue, like people talking, and some of that is a procedure issue. We do two things. One, we help hospitals to identify and reduce
the unnecessary noise first, and that’s our way of focusing on something right in front of us. At the same time, parallel to that, we also
create solutions to introduce soothing soundscapes and options for music, sound of nature, something interactive. To increase positive sensory experience at the same time. We, through other typing and testing some really crazy, exciting ideas at the same time, so the key really is to combine those two
approaches, one being more evidence-based, objective, something in front of us that we
can solve today, while at the same time pursuing this dreamy, fun, lofty, imaginative solutions to help people.

3 thoughts on “This is the future of hospital sounds

  1. We have a hospital here (Mercy Care) and they have a grand piano in the entrance way that plays automatically or when the switch is off, can be played manually. It really is a soothing sound to hear as you enter the hospital. I agree that having music playing softly is a good thing.

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