Waiting Room Chronicles: What does your healthcare sound like?

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“The Waiting Room Chronicles”

As an artist who also spends a lot of time in the waiting room, I have often reflected on how time wasted in the waiting room could be utilized as a creative, productive, and healing time. I have written about the potential of the waiting room previously, and as I have continued to explore creative strategies for improving healthcare, sound art has captured my attention.

Sound design as a step towards creating patient-centered, humanized healthcare

As a visual artist, when I think about reshaping the waiting room experience for patients, I think about imagery. I think about the physical spaces people move through, and the tactile environment they might experience in a moment of vulnerability and stress. This week I came across Yoko Sen, an electronic musician, producer, engineer, vocalist and sound designer who expanded my thought process to include something invisible yet incredibly impactful in clinical settings: sound.

Yoko’s goal is to convert chaotic sounds of hospitals into more “soothing” soundscapes. She founded Sen Sound, “a social enterprise to reimagine the sound environment in hospitals.”

How do the sounds in hospitals impact our experience of illness?

After learning more about Sen Sound, I realized that I too have internalized the sounds of my hospital experience. As a person with Multiple Sclerosis, I’ve been in the hospital numerous times, having countless MRIs over the years to track the progression of my illness. Listening to the sounds of the MRI inspired me to create the following track several years ago, using sounds I found on the internet:

Submerged, Elizabeth Jameson, 2013

Transforming dissonant sounds

While I used the sounds I had to work with to try and process my own experience, Yoko and her company Sen Sound is doing something revolutionary. Their mission is to create “human-centered sound design to transform patient and staff experience.” They have conducted research with patients, family members and health care professionals to discover how the relentless noise of the hospital could become a harmonious, peaceful soundscape.

I am looking forward to seeing her perform at Medicine X, a health conference I will be attending in just two weeks. Yoko’s live performance will be of Sound Sen’s most current project, Sound Will, which focuses on the last sound people would like to hear instead of a chaotic blend of alarms, doors slamming, and hospital equipment. The project was one of top ideas selected by a recent Open IDEO challenge.

If you are interested in the intersections between the arts and healthcare, another article I published through The Huffington Post may interest you, featuring seven unique people who are reshaping the narrative of illness in the fields of art, healthcare, and storytelling.

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