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Title Paterson – Prototyping medical acoustic environments for the design of new auditory warning signals
Reference PTDC/PSI-GER/31943/2017
PI Guilherme Campos
Participants Guilherme Campos, José M. N. Vieira
Funded by FCT
Global funding (€) 237053
RU funding (€) 38748
Starts 2018/06/01
Ends 2021/05/31

Operating Rooms (OR) and Recovery Rooms (RR) in hospitals are equipped with multiple medical devices capable of emitting audio alarm signals. These are normally designed by different manufacturers. International standards define general parameters for these warning signals, but disregard the space they will be used in and the tasks their users will be engaged with, resulting in a cacophony that healthcare staff often refer to as “airport levels of noise”. This project aims at a user-centred approach to the design of audio warning interfaces, rooted in psychophysics and neurophysiology, making warning signals more informative and detectable. The team believe this will reduce the probability of human errors that often result in serious harm to patients. The method involves detailed acoustic characterisation of both types of room and observation of medical staff and their interaction with medical devices when a warning signal is triggered. The acoustic survey will assess the frequency ranges involved and include binaural measurements to record spatial patterns. This information will be used in the first stage of psychophysical and neurophysiologic tests to find the correspondence between sound-field parameters and the neural and behavioural responses at different levels of cognitive load. Room acoustic simulation models will be developed to allow non-invasive auralisation-based testing of new signals. In particular, the tests will explore the use of spatial cues to help detect the origin of the alarm signals and so accelerate the process of identifying the patient requiring attention, which is critical in a RR where some eight patients are being monitored. New audio warning signals will be designed taking into account the requirements identified and exploring spatialised (loudspeaker-based) delivery. The signals will be validated through 1) psychophysical and neurophysiologic testing in lab setting; 2) real-time auralisation with motion capture in 3D immersive audio-visual CAVE-like environment; 3) biomedical simulator. The envisaged results of the project are a library of audio warning signals and an acoustic prototyping tool, intended for use by both manufacturers and sound designers, considering all requirements and adapted to different levels of workload, background noise and events. It will be possible to assign different sounds to different events and understand, through simulation, their effect in the sonic landscape of ORs and RRs. It is hoped this research will contribute to better audio design guidelines in medical contexts and ultimately better decision-making by staff working under high levels of stress and cognitive load.