Speech intelligibility in hospitals

Erica E. Ryherd, Michael Moeller, Timothy Hsu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Effective communication between staff members is key to patient safety in hospitals. A variety of patient care activities including admittance, evaluation, and treatment rely on oral communication. Surprisingly, published information on speech intelligibility in hospitals is extremely limited. In this study, speech intelligibility measurements and occupant evaluations were conducted in 20 units of five different U.S. hospitals. A variety of unit types and locations were studied. Results show that overall, no unit had "good" intelligibility based on the speech intelligibility index (SII > 0.75) and several locations found to have "poor" intelligibility (SII < 0.45). Further, occupied spaces were found to have 10%-15% lower SII than unoccupied spaces on average. Additionally, staff perception of communication problems at nurse stations was significantly correlated with SII ratings. In a targeted second phase, a unit treated with sound absorption had higher SII ratings for a larger percentage of time as compared to an identical untreated unit. Taken as a whole, the study provides an extensive baseline evaluation of speech intelligibility across a variety of hospitals and unit types, offers some evidence of the positive impact of absorption on intelligibility, and identifies areas for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)586-595
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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