The Private Conversation Heard ‘Round the World!

Recently, Don and I had a meeting at a hospital to specify a video presentation system for one of their educational centers. As we wrapped up and were leaving, Don asked “you want to hear something”? “Sure”, I replied. Thinking he was going to have me listen to a kick-butt audio system we had installed, Don instead brought me to a waiting room at urgent care. No background music, just a TV playing very softly for about a dozen patients and family. “I don’t get it”, I said. “Listen again”, he said. I mentally tuned out the TV and the rest of the light background noise…then it hit me like a freight train. I turned to look toward the reception desk, about 25 feet away. An elderly man was speaking with a young woman behind the counter; she asking him pointed questions about his condition, he providing intimate details at length.

Sound Masking System in Organisation by Audio Concepts

I could hear everything they were discussing… very clearly! As, I’m sure, were the rest of the folks in the waiting room.

“Holy crap”, I blurted. “Exactly”, said Don, smirking.

On the drive back to the office, Don told me this wasn’t an isolated instance. He’d experienced hearing private conversations at other hospitals and medical offices, financial institutions, conference rooms, schools, and law offices*. When bringing it up to personnel at these various facilities, some didn’t know the problem existed until it was pointed out to them…then they went into scramble mode to find a solution. Most knew they had a problem but either didn’t know how to fix it or tried solutions that just didn’t work (FYI, if you believe that absorbing via insulation above the ceiling tiles or blocking via solid partitions around a space alone will create the right acoustic environment, guess again ). The best solution, and the one we’ve had the greatest success with, is “covering” the sound using Sound Masking. Sound masking systems can be executed a few different ways but normally include emitters (think in-ceiling speakers) that generate a soft noise which obscures speech. Our “weapon of choice” is from a local company, Cambridge Sound Masking. Unlike most competitors, they emit into the workspace rather than into the plenum for much better, more even coverage. The sound they produce (think soft HVAC duct noise) isn’t generic “pink” noise, instead it is sound researched then tuned to human speech and hearing frequencies for better masking. The emitters are tiny and innocuous, and can be part of a paging and music playback system. Oh, and the package can be a much lower-cost option than other types of acoustic treatments.

If you’re unsure if you or your clients may need a sound masking solution, here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself:

  • Can private conversations in examination rooms, conference rooms, or management offices be overheard in hallways, waiting areas, or open workspace?
  • Can private conversations be overheard from adjacent rooms?
  • Is sensitive patient or client information being discussed near a waiting area, lobby, or other public space?

Better still, let’s talk! We can review your office or facility and even schedule a demonstration of a system in action. Be prepared to be amazed!

And now, back to proposing a sound masking system for that hospital…

*There are numerous laws and regulations in place that encourage or mandate confidentiality and privacy, such as HIPPA (mandates that all employers “take reasonable safeguards to protect the privacy of protected health information”), GLBA (the financial equivalent of HIPPA, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act requires financial institutions to protect their client’s non-public financial information), and FERPA (mandates that colleges and universities take all reasonable efforts to safeguard student information including how the information is collected and disseminated).


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