By Pranav Reddy


“All research into hearing seems to home in on two basic facts: 1) if a channel of information is available, it will get used by living things and 2)sound is everywhere there is life (and other places).” -Seth Horowitz

On September 25, 2013 we held our first Design and Health workshop. Led by Shawn Greenlee, a RISD Professor of Foundation Studies, we started a conversation that would encompass a broad spectrum of issues at the intersection of the often-disparate worlds of healthcare and design.

During this first workshop, we absorbed the “soundscape” in the hospital, adding sounds to recreate the atmosphere. Discussing the role that sound plays in patient and provider experiences, we unexpectedly delved into a ubiquitous yet often unrecognized factor.

Out of this initial exploration, a research study led by emergency physician Dr. Leo Kobayashi MD, Dr. Jay Baruch and Tony Zhang MD, MS along with Markus Berger, Professor of Interior Architecture at RISD was born.

Sound has been showcased to affect patient’s well being, and even more so in high-stress, error-prone medical environments. The focus of this study is on areas of transfer-of-care (“sign-out”) in the ED, where there is often sound leakage. Although patient privacy and confidentiality are held as cornerstones of medical practice, in reality studies show that 36%-45% of patients overhear provider conversations.

What does the sound landscape look like in the emergency department, especially near transfer of care areas? How much confidential information can be overheard?