This act mandates that all healthcare providers must have appropriate safeguards in their physical facilities to protect their patient’s medical information from being overheard by others. Non compliance could result in penalties, fines and, in severe cases, imprisonment. Enforcement, through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), occurs at the state level and is monitored for compliance on a consistent basis.
Patient care is disrupted when high levels of noise occur in patient care areas. It alters patients’ moods, can cause anxiety, irritability and agitation. Illness can cause a higher sensitivity to stressors found within the environment they are in which results in apprehension disruption of sleep and increased levels of pain
One very effective way of reducing stressful noises and assure patient privacy is protected is through sound conditioning or masking. This type of technology has been around for more than 30 years in the form of sound absorbing panels and tiles. Newer forms of masking techniques utilize a type of background sound which has a low level capacity like that of the human voice. This technique is achieved by playing a harmonious and steady sound that obscures unwanted noise. Imagine being in your bathroom with the bathtub water running and trying to participate in a conversation with someone who is in another room. The sounds of the conversation are present but the sound of the water running overpowers the actual conversation. When an electronically produced sound is distributed evenly within a defined space, it is virtually impossible for overheard conversations to occur, even when people are talking only a few feet away.
When a provider or facility begins the process of sound masking implementation key consideration of how to safeguard patient privacy is tantamount. It is important to address specific areas such as nurse’s stations, waiting rooms, pharmacies, counseling areas and waiting rooms. These types of areas have issues of “physical crowding” and “high traffic” resulting in the potential for an increased volume of speech. Even with the addition of glass dividers, curtains and workstation cubicles, conversations are overheard up to an area of 55 feet away.
Sound masking equipment installs easily and provides an effective way to assure patient privacy as well as reduction in overall noise, without costly remodeling and can also easily satisfy requirements for confidential speech privacy as set forth by the federal government under HIPAA. Patient’s will benefit by knowing that their health information is secure and protected, will feel less anxious due to the reduction of stressful noises and will have an increased period of rest as a result of the decrease in noise.