Online Originals: Musician aims to reduce sounds in hospitals to promote patient healing

Online Originals

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) Being a patient at a hospital brings stress, on top of already being unwell.

People are always bustling about, nurses and doctors are administering care at all hours of the day and night, family members are sleeping on couches and bad news is delivered daily.

The sounds of the hospital only contribute to the stress.

Machines are beeping, doors closing, carts rolling, people are talking, crying and alarms seem to always be going off.

Photo courtesy: @yokosen – Twitter

Yoko Sen, an award-winning musician, and a sound alchemist, is trying to reduce the number of sounds in hospitals to create a less stressful environment for patients, staff and family members.

Studies show that 72-99% of all hospital alarms are falsely leading to alarm fatigue for nurses, doctors, and even patients.

Due to the high number of false alarms, sometimes they are ignored which puts patients in harm’s way.

Here are some alarm statistics according to an article on

A Few Scary Facts About Hospital Alarms

  • The Food and Drug Administration reported more than 560 alarm-related deaths in the United States between 2005 and 2008.
  • Between January 2009 and June 2012, hospitals in the United States reported 80 deaths and 13 severe injuries.
  • One study showed that more than 85% of all alarms in a particular unit were false.
  • A hospital reported an average of one million alarms going off in a single week.
  • A children’s hospital reported 5,300 alarms in a day – 95% of them false.
  • A hospital reported at least 350 alarms per patient per day in the intensive care unit.

Yoko Sen toured Vidant Medical center on Thursday and spoke with hospital staff about the troubling alarm sounds.

One doctor said he’s had to learn to block out the alarms due to their constant nature.

Sen has been working on the mission to reduce hospital sounds since she spent a period of time in the hospital herself.

“We do a series of initiatives,” said Sen. “One of them is to work with medical device manufacturers to collaborate and work together with people who actually have to hear those sounds to redesign some of those machines sounds together.”

Another initiative is to focus on clinician well-being by creating different interventions to help alleviate stress for hospital staff.

Over the last six months, Sen has traveled to London, Amsterdam and other places to meet with medical device manufacturers like Phillips in an effort to encourage them to really think about the effect the noises of their machines have on patients and staff.

Sen says we live in a very visually-oriented culture so when products are designed, sound, often, is not the focus.

“A small, careful, considerate improvement can make a lot of difference not only on patients but on clinicians and their entire experience,” said Sen.

A quieter environment will allow patients to sleep better, promote healing, and reduce stress on hospital staff.

“I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm from those companies to work together with communities to try and make a change.”

yoko sen

Another initiative Sen is working on is changing the last sound a person hears before passing away in a hospital.

“Some people say hearing is the last sense to go when we die.” said Sen. “Many people in the United States end up dying in acute care hospitals and I suppose the last sound or last sensation people get to have is that cacophony of alarm sounds which is very tragic.”

Most people are overwhelmed when asked how they would like their end of life to be.

Sen says re-framing the question to ‘If it could be any sound that you like…what’s the last sound you’d like to hear at the end of your life?’ it would be a more gentle conversation

For more information about Yoko Sen’s mission, visit

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