Doors slamming shut, medical alerts over the intercom, the steady beep of a heart rate monitor; these are some of the sounds associated with the traditional hospital experience.

In November, Vidant Medical Center welcomed Yoko Sen, sound designer and founder of Sen Sound, to help in ongoing efforts to create a more soothing and healthier auditory experience for patients and family members.

Sen toured the hospital listening to sounds and meeting with clinical team members to explain how the sound experience affects the recovery process. “Noise,” Sen said, “can cause stress and stress can in turn cause more noise.” This creates a loop that feeds off itself, resulting in a highly-stressful experience.

Whether it is rethinking the sound of a device, reducing the level of an alarm or even finding quieter carts, Sen said there are many ways to improve the sound experience.

“There are a number of studies that show that noise affects a patient’s recovery and noise hinders people from being able sleep and rest,” said Sen. “An improvement in sound can improve a patient’s experience and outcome.”

To understand Sen and her mission, one needs to understand her own health care experience, she said. A trained ambient electronic musician, Sen was in a hospital dealing with an illness when the noise happening around her caught her attention and refused to let go — the beeps, the doors, the alarms, all of it.

Is this noise, she wondered, the last sounds that some people get to hear at the end of their lives?

“I was very disturbed by noise at hospitals; alarms and machine noise,” said Sen. “This inspired the creation of my company, Sen Sound. We are currently working with medical device manufacturers to collaborate with the people who actually have to hear these sounds.”

Since then, Sen has recovered and has been featured on TEDx, The New York Times and other prominent platforms. She has visited hospitals around the world, exploring how to transform the sound environment for a soothing patient experience. Her recent trip to Greenville marked her first visit to Vidant, where patient experience is at the heart of providing compassionate care.

“Sound in the environment is not just about patients,” Dr. Julie Kennedy Oehlert, RN, chief experience officer for Vidant. “Caregivers can also experience alarm fatigue. At Vidant, we are starting to create a healing environment for both patients and caregivers.”

Oehlert said Vidant has long been interested in understanding how it can improve the sound environment for its patients and the health system has made great strides in realizing Sen’s vision. A tour through the palliative care unit, which features minimal noise and quieter alarms, shows how far the hospital has come.

“Health care is an all-sensory experience,” Oehlert said. “Vidant will continue to work on all the elements that create a positive experience, both for patients and families, as well as those that provide care.”

Hosting Sen was an important step in bringing the future of hospital sound right here to eastern North Carolina.

“This has become a rather unexpected journey of turning people into humans, every step of the way,” Sen said.

Contact Bobby Burns at baburns@reflector.com and 329.9572.

Highlighting Your Health is an educational segment courtesy of Vidant Health that appears twice a month in The Daily Reflector. Vidant is a mission-driven, 1,708-bed health system that annually serves a region of more than 1.4 million people in 29 eastern North Carolina counties. As a major resource for health services and education, Vidant’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina.