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How Private Are Your Medical Conversations?

by Justin Meyer on July 15, 2015

If you’ve been to your doctor’s office lately, you might have been allowed to listen to a conversation between a doctor and another patient. You didn’t even need to be in the room with them. The sound isolation between many exam rooms can be so poor that you can hear virtually everything that is said next door, or in the corridor.

hipaa-speech-privacy

Doctors and nurses, who are aware of the problem, may complain multiple times to hospital administrators about it. Apparently, the issue isn’t on everyone’s radar.

Will they have to endure paying HIPAA statutory fines, or suffer through a HIPAA speech privacy lawsuit before corrective action is taken? Failure to comply with HIPAA can result in civil and criminal penalties (42 USC § 1320d-5). Fortunately, the 2014 FGI Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Healthcare Facilities, and Residential Healthcare Facilities, incorporate speech privacy requirements, so there’s an objective standard to follow during design and construction.

Proper sound isolation is most effectively incorporated into the original design or tenant fit-out. After a space is occupied, not only does the corrective renovation work cost more, but there is also potential lost work time for the occupants and the inconvenience of co-existing with the construction noise and dust. Sound masking systems can be an effective means to improve speech privacy for existing facilities, when construction isn’t a viable option. It seems a wise move to include appropriate sound isolation as an integral part of the original design instead of waiting for tenant complaints, or worse yet, a lawsuit.

Recently, Acoustics By Design was asked by a healthcare facility to help them address their speech privacy issues, in a brand new building. They haven’t been there very long, but already the complaints from the practitioners and patients have been stacking up. Estimates for correction of the existing trouble spots are expected to be anywhere from 2-4 times as much as it would have cost to design and build the facility properly in the first place.

At Acoustics By Design, we work with architects and health care professionals to design spaces that provide acoustic privacy and confidentiality for patients. We take HIPAA speech privacy concerns seriously, follow the FGI Guidelines, and urge all health care providers and facility designers to do the same.

Justin Meyer

Justin Meyer

Justin Meyer, LEED AP, has worked as an acoustical consultant since 2008 at companies in North Carolina, and Iowa, before joining Acoustics By Design. He is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago, where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Audio Arts and Acoustics, with an emphasis in Acoustics. Justin is the Senior Acoustical Consultant at Acoustics By Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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