Elif Özcan Vieira
Written by Xandra van Megen
Rising star Elif Özcan Vieira recently promoted to associate professor at Industrial Design Engineering. She is also the director of the Critical Alarms Lab. “The lab aims to shape the future of alarms and soundscapes in socio-technological environments.” The lab is in collaboration with Erasmus MC where the main focus is on the alarms in the intensive care unit.
Özcan explains: “according to WHO noise is the second most important environmental cause of death and disability in Europe. I am trying to understand the sonic environment of the intensive care unit and how the sonic environment has an effect on patient experience and recovery. At the same time, I research the effect of sound on clinicians.”
In the intensive care unit every single device has an alarm; infusion pumps, patient monitors, ventilation systems, etc. If a nurse misses an alarm it can be fatal for the patient. On the other hand, nurses can suffer from alarm fatigue; they are overwhelmed by the number of alarms and they cannot respond to them correctly. There is a total mismatch between human capacity and what the technology offers in terms of solutions.
There is a total mismatch between human capacity and what the technology offers in terms of solutions.― Elif Özcan Vieira
“When I hear stories of patients suffering in intensive care because of beeping sounds and alarms due to bad design, I think this is unacceptable. It motivates me to do better. Very often the designers of single devices do not create sound in relation to other sounds. The design process is very poor. I am trying to improve this by understanding sound driven design issues taking the user into account,” says Özcan.
When I hear stories of patients suffering in IC because of alarms due to bad design, I think this is unacceptable.― Elif Özcan Vieira
Turning alarms into music an art
Multiple projects are conducted in the critical alarms lab with the goal to create a quieter area by making use of better audible alarms and visual elements. One of them is the silent patient monitor, which senses who is present in the patient-room and based on that only displays relevant information for the specific person. Another project is focused on turning alarms into music. The vital functions of the patient are represented by a specific harmonious melody. When the condition of the patient gets worse the melody changes, warning the nurses.
Environmental sounds in the corridor of the intensive care are researched in the Doplor project. Nurses often do not realize how much sound they contribute to the environment themselves. If nurses are not sensitive to their auditory footprint, they will never change behavior. Incentives are given to nurses to be a bit quiet. This is done in an artful way with animations of the sea which represents the auditory quality of the environment.
If nurses are not sensitive to their auditory footprint, they will never change behavior.― Elif Özcan Vieira
In these projects, Özcan collaborates with Erasmus MC, Judy Edworthy (professor at the University of Plymouth), other colleagues at Vanderbilt University, artist Yoko Sen and Design United and more.
Grants and funding
Özcan is positive: ”We just finished our two years, when I look back, I can’t imagine how much we have achieved. When you have a good story, then you are given the possibility to prove your point. I got two special prices from Delft Health Initiative, which helped me boost my research. One of them was the prototyping grant. It was quite a substantial grant. One can do a lot with a small amount of money.” She recently got funding from Philips to attract two PhD candidates. Together with Philips, more research will be conducted on designing sounds and audiovisual systems.
When you have a good story, then you are given the possibility to prove your point.― Elif Özcan Vieira
“My dream is to be able to also do more fundamental research on human perceptions and how we experience sound. If I can bring in more projects through this fundamental research, then we would have a very good balance of industrial partners and scientific research that can feed each other,” she concludes.