Got noise? Shhhhh!

Area startup designs sensor-technology to control hospital noise.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

We’ve all been there. Complaining to hotel management at 3 a.m. about an overly boisterous group in the hallway, or knocking on the wall of an adjoining apartment for the same reason. Noise is all around us, but when it’s out of the ordinary and distracting it can trigger much larger problems.

John Bialk had a long career in property management, where noise complaints were the most frequent of all complaints and the typical answer to “What’s our noise policy?” was often, “Call the police.”

“Anyone knows that calling the police will likely wreck any relationship with the neighbors, but that’s what we did,” Bialk says. “My good clients ended up moving, bad tenants stayed, and then I had to fill a unit next to noisy tenants.”

Quietyme CEO John Bialk, left, and COO Huey Zoroufy with the company’s noise monitoring equipment

Bialk, an entrepreneur from the middle part of the state, had an idea for a noise monitoring system and through gener8tor he met and received the backing of a Milwaukee investor who owned a couple of large manufacturing plants. Before long, Quietyme launched in January 2013.

One day, Bialk stumbled upon a problem that changed his focus. “I saw a tweet one day that said, ‘Our hospital is losing money because of noise.’ I thought, wow, we can help them!”

What he quickly learned was that hospital noise was a significant problem in the health care industry. “Noise is one of the top complaints among patients,” he says, based on the results of HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) surveys. It can impede a patient’s ability to sleep, and a lack of sleep can lengthen hospital stays, raise blood pressure and heart rates, and delay wound healing. “From Medicare’s standpoint, ‘if you have a noisy hospital, you’re not as efficient and you’re costing us more, so we’ll penalize you accordingly.’”

Noise is addressed in just one of 25 standardized questions posed to patients on the HCAHPS quality-of-care survey, but because it tends to generate the lowest satisfaction numbers, it can also lower a hospital’s aggregate score. “Noise is where most hospitals fail,” Bialk reports. By 2017, he says, Medicare may dock hospitals with low aggregate scores as much as 2% of their Medicare reimbursements, so there’s a significant financial reason to reduce noise.

Enter Quietyme, which has a system of small sensors that can be installed in every hospital room, hallway, and common area. The sensors monitor noise levels, temperature, humidity, and light, but do not record conversations. Data is analyzed in the cloud.

Is this a little Big Brother-ish? Bialk disagrees. “Hospital staff is already being monitored every day — by the patients who submit the surveys to Medicare.” The Quietyme system, he says, gives staff an opportunity to improve upon situations they may not have otherwise known about.

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Quietyme works with nursing staffs primarily. “They are the masters of their domain and know what they’re doing,” but there have to be reasons why patients report some dissatisfaction when it comes to noise issues.

Hospitals pay a monthly fee for the monitoring service, and the nursing stations involved receive a daily noise report noting any significant problem areas from the day before. It may even suggest some simple solutions. “Noise begets noise,” Bialk says. “The louder a space is, the louder you have to be.”

Hospitals only need an Internet connection and an outlet to install the sensors, and the company’s latest iteration can be used anywhere in the world, Bialk says, “So if you can charge a smart phone, you can run our product.”

UW Hospital is currently experimenting with the program, as are 17 hospitals around the country. The end goals are reducing noise, creating more restful sleeping conditions, improving patient satisfaction, and upping aggregate HCAHPS scores.

Quietyme provides a planned, ongoing effort to reduce noise through process and behavioral change. “There will always be noise in a hospital,” Bialk notes, “but something as simple as closing some doors might improve a patient’s overall experience.”

The company, which has 18 employees across the country and three overseas, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars since launching, including significant funding from the likes of Madison Development Corp. and American Family Ventures.

Bialk expects Quietyme to be acquired at some point. “I think we have a really good solution here, but if the company sold tomorrow I’d find another problem to solve and start over.”

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