Is There Another Doctor in the House?
Imagine waiting in a doctor’s office or hospital room to find out the final results of your child’s blood work. It could be a simple illness or a life-threatening disease. All is silent – too quiet in fact because you can hear the doctor laughing with the patient next door. You hope you will be laughing with relief in a few minutes, but right now you are far from laughing. You try to tune out the happiness just one room over when the nurse’s voice catches your attention. Hoping she’s about to enter the room you are in to deliver some kind of news, you are disappointed to discover that she is on the phone- it’s her job, but it seems inappropriate that you can hear the answers and you are embarrassed for the person calling. It is at this point that you realize that the news you are about to receive will not just be your news- anyone in earshot will be privy to your excitement or devastation. You make a mental note to ask your friends if they can refer you to another doctor.
This may seem far-fetched, but it’s really not. You know that HIPAA requires doctors and medical professionals to safeguard medical records and keep the privacy of patients by all reasonable means. You would never put patients’ paperwork on open display, but you might not fully realize what is transmitted verbally. Whether it’s in the open waiting room, through the walls, or via a telephone conversation, the human voice travels. And what has become ordinary and routine to medical staff is very private and personal to your patients. They expect professionalism, which includes safeguarding their medical histories in every way possible.
The Importance of Patient Satisfaction
According to Press Ganey patient satisfaction surveys, there is a clear link between patient satisfaction and their perception of the quality of care and profitability. Satisfied patients experience less stress themselves and present less stress to medical staff, resulting in fewer errors and more profit. Satisfied patients also share their experiences with others and are willing to refer your practice or hospital to their friends and family. In fact, Press Ganey found that “Hospitals with patient satisfaction in the 90th percentile experienced nearly a 1/3 increase in patient volume—or, on average, an additional 1,382 patients per year.” The exact opposite was true for hospitals with low patient satisfaction- as many as 2,600 patients sought other providers.
Sound Masking & How it Works
You cannot afford to lose patients due to a resolvable issue, such as sound leaks. Perception is everything, and your patients need to feel valued and important enough that you took the proper steps to safeguard both their records and their conversations. Those steps include sound masking. Rather than re-design your entire office or hospital, you can install a simple, but effective sound masking system.
Similar to the concept of “white noise,” sound masking systems employ compact speakers in areas where speech is heard to add low-level background sound to an environment. This low-level noise fills in the spectrum of sound around building occupants to create an almost undeterminable low background signal, thus drowning out undesired speech or distracting sounds. Contrary to what you may think, sound masking systems use as low a level of sound as is necessary for covering and ultimately are not any louder than the gentle “whooshing” sounds typical of an air conditioning system.
Why is sound masking the best solution?
While adding absorption techniques such as carpet and fabric interiors can help ease sound leaks, they also require extensive cleaning and maintenance to remove airborne contaminants, not to mention deviate from desired aesthetics. Sound masking systems do not give off VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) or contribute to the collection of dust mites or allergens. Rather than tearing out, replacing, or re-designing your office or building, sound masking systems can offer a nearly invisible solution for doctors to maintain privacy. In addition, modern systems require almost no maintenance cost and contribute to LEED certification.
As in any business, the customer experience cannot be underestimated. Thriving practices grow because their patients have a great experience and high levels of satisfaction. While most doctors and office managers know this, sadly, office acoustics and privacy are often overlooked. The effects can be significant: a good “bedside manner” can be undone by an overheard conversation from the exam room next door. You can increase your patients’ satisfaction level and therefore grow your practice by making simple and relatively inexpensive improvements to the acoustics in your office or building.