This photo has been released into the public domain by its author, Tomasz Sienicki

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This news story asserts that noise in hospitals is steadily increasing. In fact, the trend is actually the other way: for over a decade now, hospitals have been struggling to get this problem under control. And the Affordable Care Act is helping.

How? ACA includes something called the HCAHPS—patient-centered care survey that hospitals are required to send out to every patient within a few days of a hospital stay, and results of this survey are available to the public. The HCAHPS survey is a short one, about 20 questions, including one called the “noise-at-night question” that asks former patients whether their room quiet at night.

Guess what? That question gets the WORST response every time! That’s been an eye-opener for the people who run hospitals–their boards of directors–because before ACA and HCAHPS nobody really cared what patients thought. Now hospitals’ federal reimbursements are linked to their HCAHPS scores. So a big wake-up call went down from hospital board rooms to the clinical staffs—“fix the noise problems, we can’t afford negative patient reviews because they reduce our hospital’s profit margins!”

But what can they do to fix the noise problems? Lots. I’m proud to say that I lead a U.S. national group that has been working on the hospital noise problem since 2005–that’s 15 years–called the Healthcare Acoustics Project, an independent, all-volunteer community of professionals that develops national and international codes and standards for the health care industry. HAP published the first “comprehensive national criteria for noise control in American hospitals and healthcare facilities” in 2010, and we’ve been steadily improving those criteria ever since. Now they’re embedded in the building codes in most of the U.S. and administered by each state’s building code authorities.

So next time you or a loved one is hospitalized, take a close look and a careful listen to noise and privacy levels in their sleeping quarters. If it’s noisy, COMPLAIN LOUDLY and mention that you know about the HCAHPS survey.

We’re pretty certain you’ll get a response pretty quickly. Because patients now have an effective voice thanks to the patient-centered care movement!

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