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Jamie Mackrill: Hospital Soundscapes

It is hoped that doctors and nurses may benefit from Jamie's PhD research, which is focusing on the positive use of sound in healthcare environments, particularly long-stay wards. His three-year doctorate is called What is a Positive Healthcare Soundscape and How Can It Be Achieved? The aim is not primarily to address noise nuisance but to look at how good use of sound and the content of sound can improve a patient's overall experience and recovery and make life easier for the staff.

Jamie explained: 'Current research shows the persistent rise in sound levels within the healthcare environment and it has been shown these have a negative effect on the individual within it. But there has only really been research into the negative aspects e.g. the problem of noise. My research aims to look at what is positive about hospital sounds and how the sounds within the hospital can be improved, or manipulated to produce a positive response from patients and staff.'

Jamie's initial work will involve asking all stakeholders - clinicians, nurses, other staff and patients - for their opinions and feelings about the effects of various sounds in hospitals.

He then hopes to record a variety of hospital sounds and recreate, or simulate, a hospital soundscape at Warwick Manufacturing Group’s (WMG)'s International Digital Laboratory. The soundscape can be manipulated using data extracted from the surveys assessing the emotional response from the stakeholder groups. The stakeholders can then come into the laboratory to experience the created soundscape and rate the various sounds to which they are exposed.

Jamie said that capturing their emotional responses to the environment was the key to understanding which sounds could be used to positive effect.

Eventually he hopes to produce a set of guidelines for architects and planners in order that sound can be an integral part of the early design process for hospitals, rather than being a ‘retrofit’.

'You can't remove sounds altogether because clinicians need to know that equipment is working - for instance a beeping monitor provides information. But there may be ways of easing the effects, such as changing the sound or reducing the noise from other sources like air-conditioning, or even using masking sounds such as rustling trees or running water, to produce a positive emotional response from the people within the environment.' said Jamie.

Jamie's interest in the connection between people and design was fostered at Loughborough University, where he gained a first class BSc in Ergonomics. Although some of his work there focused on vehicles, he decided to move into healthcare areas of increasing importance at WMG.

His PhD is being supervised by Professor Paul Jennings and Dr Rebecca Cain, who are leading research into improving positive perceptions of products and environments.

'I enjoy the people aspect and the psychology of design but the commercial world didn t appeal and this seemed to fit the bill,' said Jamie. 'Certainly the advantage of working in an engineering department means that the work may eventually be of practical benefit.'

Jamie Mackrill