Interview Elif Ozcan Vieira

Buzzing, ringing, beeping, droning – the ubiquitous soundscape of hospitals. Rather than accepting this as is, the Critical Alarms Lab applies a sound-driven design approach to support medical decision making, increase healthcare provider’s capacity to respond, and speed up patient recovery.

What started off as research into alarm fatigue at the intensive care unit evolved into a comprehensive sonic environment research programme. Sound is always a sore point for healthcare providers. Alarming, confirming, informing, and reassuring sounds – they are aware of it, they need it and live the consequences of it.

The Critical Alarms Lab has roots in, and continues to develop, fundamental theories of auditory perception and user experience in healthcare contexts and thrives on empirical evidence. But much more than (re)designing the sounds themselves, sound-driven design is about understanding the role of sound in complex medical environments, taking into account user behaviour, experiences, and limitations with policies as well as the perspectives of engineering, medical and social sciences. It helps reshape human-technology interactions through creative data-mapping techniques, artistic representations of environmental data and sonification of patient vitals creating a sense of an intelligent environment that contributes to the wellbeing of patients and healthcare providers.

Comprising expertise in design, musicology, cognitive neuroscience and computer science, the Critical Alarms Lab follows evidence-based design practices to intervene in sound-induced issues in the context of critical care, operating theatres and medium care settings – with a solution space varying from creating the sounds that we expect to hear (such as the bellowing sound of a respirator), to a silent patient monitor that only becomes active once medical staff enters the room, to data control rooms where AI and humans interact to select the most actionable alarms.

Sounds are ubiquitous in our lives and we live and work in soundscapes. In general, the effect of sound in our daily interactions and in our society at large is not sufficiently acknowledged and we lack vocabulary in addressing it. One of the aims the lab therefore is to increase awareness with relation to sound and its impact, for example by developing an intelligent sound monitoring system that will provide more information about the quality of the sonic environment – whether it is actionable or not. But the overall aim in healthcare is to make hospitals look and sound more like the healing environments they are.

We apply sound-driven research to create an environment that is beneficial to both patients and healthcare providers

Dr. E. (Elif) Ozcan Vieira

TU Delft

Sound-Driven Design & Research (TU Delft), Care Technology Lead (Erasmus Medical Centre)