You are already a bit nervous. You are having a very personal medical issue that you find a bit embarrassing. In fact, you are even a little nervous about talking to your doctor about it. You sit quietly in the examination room after your vitals have been taken, awaiting the arrival of the physician. As you sit on the examination table, you hear the physician say “hello”. You quickly realize however that he has not entered your room but the one next door. You can’t help but listen in as he discusses your neighbor’s maladies in great detail. Your curiosity turns to apprehension as you realize that if you can hear them, then they will be able to overhear your conversation with the physician as well.
If you have ever been to the doctor to discuss a sensitive medical issue, you may identify with the anxiety of the patient above. How would your anxiety level and perception of the doctor’s office change knowing that everyone was able to hear what you assumed was going to be a private conversation protected by the doctor patient relationship?
There has been a lot of discussion in healthcare and on this blog about the Health Information Portability and Privacy Act (HIPPA) and its implications with regard to security of patients’ electronic data and communications. However, HIPPA covers all healthcare communications, including oral communications. That communication could be between healthcare professionals or between doctor’s and their patients, and in all cases, HIPPA privacy rules apply.
Protecting oral communications can be tricky, and some may argue that it is difficult at best. HIPPA specifically refers to communications breaches that can be “reasonably prevented”, which is a rather vague standard to meet. However there are some simple solutions and steps to take that can definitely meet that recommendation.
Healthcare providers that are designing and constructing their own facilities can easily promote construction techniques that minimize something called the Sound Transmission Class, or STC. There are multiple techniques that can be used in construction that involve everything from decoupling sheetrock from studs, building interior wall all the way to the hard cap ceiling as opposed to just above the acoustic grid, and using acoustic treatment materials on walls and other hard surfaces.
For smaller healthcare providers and independent physicians building a new facility from the ground up, or doing an extended tenant improvement to an existing space is just not possible, feasible, or cost effective. In these cases all is not lost. Many turn to technology as a viable and less expensive option to create speech privacy. They do this in two different ways via a sound system. One way is very intuitive but the other may be something you are unfamiliar with.
Many healthcare facilities utilize music in waiting rooms and examination rooms. The purpose is two-fold. First, there is a psychological calming effect proven to be associated with certain pieces or styles of music, and putting patients in a state of relaxation can have a positive impact on the quality of care. Secondly, having a base level of music in the background can potentially obscure other conversations in nearby areas that may have been easily heard if the space was completely quiet. An added bonus of these type of sound systems is that they can also be used with local paging systems to call physicians, nurses, or even patients.
There is another type of audio system that can also be used increase speech privacy and it typically goes unnoticed. In many cases having music in an area where a doctor may be trying to evaluate a condition or explain a delicate treatment to a patient can be counterproductive. IN these cases a sound masking system may be your best bet.
A sound masking system uses speakers that typically face upward into the ceiling spaces. Instead of playing music, they play a sound similar to airflow. This base level of white noise acts as a barrier to other sounds traveling through the same space and masks them. It reduces sound transfer and the intelligibility of speech and as such, increases privacy. Think of it as a pair of noise cancelling headphones for your healthcare spaces.
At the end of the day, as healthcare providers, you want your patients to feel safe and comfortable with their doctor patient interactions. Investing in technology to increase speech privacy not only helps you avoid potential fines that may result from a HIPPA audit, but more importantly protects your patients and makes them feel secure and at ease with you as their healthcare provider. Isn’t that really the end goal anyway?
Avidex AV is revolutionizing the way healthcare facilities and doctors are delivering care. Their 20 years of experience is being leveraged to drive down the cost of care while promoting positive healthcare outcomes. Is your organization looking for a new kind of technology partner? Connect with one of our Account Executives today to learn more.
About Bob Higginbotham
Bob Higginbotham, CTS-I, CTS-D, is the Avidex National Manager of Healthcare AV. Bob has spent his 30 year career in leadership positions in the AV industry including extensive design and build work in healthcare facilities. He owned and operated a successful AV business in Texas with multiple offices in several cities where he managed a staff of over 100 employees. Bob has served as a technical consultant for a major AV manufacturer, led the technical sales team for a national video conferencing provider and provided technology auditing services for several private education facilities. He has a unique working knowledge of audiovisual technology as well as multiple certifications in audio engineering, acoustics, AV design, CQT system commissioning and video transmission systems. Bob holds a BA in communications and has recently served as board chair for a large private school. He brings his years of technical knowledge and leadership experience to Avidex where he leads the national healthcare AV team. Contact Bob at email@example.com