Audio for a better hospital experience

28 Sep 2023

What if you could take a sense of the calmness of the outside with you when you’re in a loud and busy hospital department or common area? and would that then help your anxiety and levels of calm?

This is the question QUT researcher Stephen Fischer is hoping to answer thanks to a ‘Rethinking Emergency Medicine’ grant from the PA Research Foundation.

Stephen’s project entitled The Sounds of the PA: an auditory snapshot of the lands where healing has taken place for generations aims to capture a soundscape of the more relaxing natural environment around the PA Hospital to produce an audio track that could be enjoyed by patients and their families as a result.

“I spent most of my 20s in and out of hospitals, I've had two surgeries at the PA. Back then, we didn't have hospital gardens, we didn't have the most accessible outside experiences,” Stephen said.

“The whole thing has come out of my PhD project, and was conceived around there being more and more healing gardens and landscape spaces now. I'm also a musician, so I've come from a point of sound experience and when you're staying in hospital, especially in some of the busier wards like the emergency department, there’s all sorts of noises going on around you; bells, alarms and whistles and things like that.

“These sounds probably don't contribute to people's sense of safety or wellbeing in that they're not considered to be pleasant sounds or calm-inducing.”

“I'm on this research mission to suggest that we can add sound primarily of the natural landscape, which would hopefully help to counteract these sounds and allow patients and to bring a bit of the natural environment outside into their present-moment experience.”

Stephen will record landscape sounds from parks and natural environments in the streets and suburbs surrounding the PA Hospital, including sounds of local birds, trees rustling in the breeze, and more. He will also be aiming to incorporate a historical element to his study where applicable, including in his audio tracks elements of local ecology that would have existed in the area prior to settlement.

“I've worked in landscape architecture so I'm very familiar with design being very visual, but we don't really adequately deal with other senses,” Stephen said.

“Because I've got experience in music and sound, I'm pretty focused on how we can imagine what the experience of a different environment would be like from an aural point of view. Imagine that as you walk along a path, you have an environment soundtrack in stereo at all times, for those who have able-hearing.”

“It's really drawing those local sounds and giving people an opportunity to try to escape whatever their reality is. It might be the case, even if it's not a patient, it might be a patient's family member that steps outside and there is speaker that is playing the sounds that we’ve captured from the local parks, as a form of positive distraction in that space.”

“In Landscape Architectural practice, we try to work out what plant species should really be in a particular place, and not just the standard ones that we use, but what are the ones that are like indigenous to that area, so I was coming from that perspective in terms of sound also in conceiving a soundscape experience in the form of an audio track.” “I'll include some of those sounds in the final result and tracks to honour the site’s history.”

Thankful to the PA Research Foundation’s donors for supporting such unique research projects such as this, the musician and landscape architect will create a three-minute loop of audio which he said could have multiple uses.

“I didn't have any preconceived ideas but there's a few things that we can do with the track, you can certainly have tracks that people listen to, we can have interactive apps, or we can even have an interactive PDF map that people can click on and hear the sounds,” he said. “We could have screen slides where we embed the sounds in different places, or certainly just have it as a track that played in areas around the hospital. I could see it being used on the back of website or something and through an app that people can just access on their phones. I'm just going to produce the tracks and then we're going to see where we can put them to benefit the wider PA Community, including patients and their families.”