Increasing Satisfaction by Providing Headphones and Ear Plugs to Patients

Intervention Title:
Increasing Satisfaction by Providing Headphones and Ear Plugs to Patients – Inova Alexandria Hospital; Alexandria, Va.

Increase patients' satisfaction with their hospital experience by reducing noise levels on the medical/surgical unit.

Staff began offering patients headphones and/or ear plugs during their admission in order to minimize the noise disturbance on the unit.

Inova's patient satisfaction survey includes the question, “How often was your room quiet at night?” with the multiple choice answers of “Never,” “Sometimes,” “Usually” and “Always.” Prior to the headphones and ear plugs distribution, the mean was somewhere between “Sometimes” and “Usually.” Now, approximately 50 percent of patients select “Always.”

Inova Alexandria Hospital
4329 Seminary Road
Alexandria, VA 22304
P: (703) 504-3000

From the C-Suite:
“Our hospital prides itself on patient satisfaction. It is something that is a core goal for the care that we provide. The importance of patient satisfaction is discussed and stressed in staff and leadership meetings. A hospital stay can be a stressful situation, which makes it a priority for our staff to ensure the patients' comfort and service are exceptional. Reducing noise levels is one important element to ensure comfort, rest and improved satisfaction."

Joy Solomita, R.N., M.S.N., M.P.H.
Chief Nurse Executive, Inova Alexandria Hospital

Inova Alexandria Hospital is a 318-bed community hospital that is part of the Inova Health System, Northern Virginia's leading not-for-profit health care provider that encompasses a family of five hospitals.

Clinical areas affected:

  • Admissions
  • Medical/surgical nursing

Staff involved:

  • Medical/surgical nurses

Inova conducted a one-week pilot by offering headphones and ear plugs to patients in just five rooms on the unit. It was so successful that it was quickly adopted unit wide and is being considered for house-wide adoption.

Joanne Gucciardo, R.N., M.S.N., C.N.A. – B.C.
Director, Professional Practice
P: (703) 504-3826

Innovation implementation:
As the medical/surgical units are predominately semi-private rooms, patient complaints about noise—from televisions, visitors of other patients and voices in the hallways—were common. The nurses and other staff on the medical/surgical unit put up “Quiet Zone” posters and signage to remind everyone to keep their voices down. At the centrally located nurses' station, they also set up a Yacker Tracker, a device that relies on a traffic light system of green, yellow and red lights to monitor noise levels and alert people when things are getting too loud. Both improved things a bit, but they didn't eliminate the complaints.

A member of the nursing staff came up with the idea to offer headphones to patients so that they could watch television without disturbing their roommate and earplugs so that they could rest even when there was noise around them. The team piloted the program in five patient rooms located close to the nurses' station.

The headphones allow patients to adjust the volume of their in-room television, but the intercom is also piped into the headphones so that patients don't miss any important announcements. Other patients who prefer more quiet time rely on the earplugs in order to minimize the disturbance of visitors to the unit or nurses and physicians talking in the hallway.

While the team has not tracked just how many sets of headphones and ear plugs it has given out since the program started, it has definitely received a good response from patients.

Advice and lessons learned:

  1. Involve staff upfront. Nurses will implement the distribution; therefore, it is important to get their input on the process.
  2. Start small. The Inova team introduced the headphone handout to all 40 unit nurses. When that was unsuccessful, it had just two nurses offer headphones and ear plugs to their patients. Once an efficient system of offering headphones and ear plugs to patients at admission was established, Inova expanded it unit wide.
  3. Value patient satisfaction. Quality headphones are not inexpensive, but if patient satisfaction is a priority, they are a worthwhile investment.

Cost/benefit estimate:
While the Inova team has not calculated the cost versus benefit of providing headphones and ear plugs, it believes anything that improves patient satisfaction—which can lead to return visits and patients recommending the hospital to family members and friends—is a worthwhile investment.