Beepers and the Beeped: Designing Medical Device Sounds with People Who Actually Have to Hear Them
Event Type
Oral Presentations
TimeWednesday, April 142:40pm - 3:00pm EDT
LocationMedical and Drug Delivery Devices
DescriptionSome people say hearing is the last sense to go when we die. What is the last sound you wish to hear at the end of your life? Is it the sound of... beeps? Studies show that sound has a tremendous impact on the hospital environments and the wellbeing of patients and clinicians alike, yet it has often been an afterthought in healthcare, particularly in the field of medical device design. The sounds of medical devices often surround the most vulnerable times of our lives. So these sounds should not only be safe and functional, but also sensible, kind, and respectful of human dignity. And they should be designed with people who have to hear them most often.

This presentation is a story about Beepers (people who make beeps) and The Beeped (people who get beeped), and what happens when they start to have human conversations. It will address why sound matters in the hospital sound environments, the distinction between sound and noise, and the impact of noise on both patients and clinicians. It will then introduce an ongoing sound design project for the Philips patient monitoring system, as a case study to demonstrate the importance of including diverse groups of users (clinicians) and beneficiaries (patients) in the design process to address complex, nuanced challenges. Patient monitors can contribute up to 80% of machine noise in the Intensive Care Units. This is the first time in decades that the sound of the Philips patient monitoring system is being redesigned. Therefore, improving the sound of this particular medical device will have a significant impact on the hospital soundscape at large.

Per ANSI/AAMI HE75:2009/(R)2018, Human Factors Engineering Design of Medical Devices, sounds should have “attention-getting ability, distinctiveness, clear communication of the desired information, and freedom from annoyance and aversion.” However, sounds that emphasize the “attention-getting ability” and “distinctiveness” could be harsh, high-pitched, and have a flat, machine-like amplitude envelope, often resulting in “annoyance and aversion,” fatigue, and psychological distress on users and beneficiaries. In order to improve not only the functionality of a sound (i.e., making it audible, distinctive, informative) but also its sensibility (i.e., making it reasonably pleasant) it is important to consider the subjective, lived experiences of all the people who would be affected. The presenters will argue that functionality and sensibility do not have to be mutually exclusive; improving one could also improve the other.

The presentation will also address that, during the project, Philips will conduct a variety of formative usability evaluations to explore design strengths and potential for improvements while observing representative users in simulated environments, reacting on alarms. Any observed use error, close-call and use difficulty will be analyzed to inform the design of the alarm sounds. A risk management team within Philips will also assess modifications to alarm sounds from a patient safety perspective.
Founder, Sound Artist
Co-Founder, Social Scientist
Senior Integral Design Program Manager