A sound-dampening trial at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm demonstrates how a simple noise-abatement technique can significantly improve the patient experience. Gunnar Öhlén, Chief Medical Officer at Karolinska University Hospital, reports that an “overnight fix” (consisting of just a few four-centimeter glass-wool acoustic tiles attached to the ceiling and walls) made patients feel more confident and comfortable:

We found that, with better sound/noise control, the patient testified that they felt that the staff was more competent, and they felt more at ease in that care setting.

Noise (unwanted sound) is stressful, so the improvement in patient comfort isn’t surprising. But the patients’ perception of greater competence among the staff is less expected. How do a few sound-absorbing acoustic tiles, and the relatively muffled care environment that these tiles produce, increase patients’ confidence in the care they’re receiving? Could it be that we all just understand on an intuitive level that, as Dr. Paul Barach, Guest Professor at the University of Oslo, asserts in the video, noisy environments lead to mistakes?

[T]hink…about the hospital being noisy, not designed to absorb sounds, plus distractions, plus interruptions, and now you get a perfect model for human errors.

If a patient’s attitude and emotional outlook (i.e., whether she is more optimistic or more pessimistic about her health) has as much influence on her prognosis as some studies suggest (Dr. David S. Sobel, Medical Director of Patient Education and Health Promotion for The Permanente Medical Group, has written extensively on this topic), the perception of greater competence that results from improved noise management would seem to be an essential element of quality care. Will the healthcare facility decision makers recognize this and begin setting aside a budget for noise mitigation? Time will tell. But the evidence suggests that doing so would demonstrate greater competence on their part as well.