Quietyme Seeks Success with Sensors that Shush Sounds in Hospitals
Noisy neighbors can be a problem, whether you’re in an apartment building or a hotel room. But if you’re in a hospital, they’re more than a nuisance—they can be a health risk.
Quietyme, a Madison, WI, startup, is looking to fix that. The startup makes sensors that can monitor noise levels, along with temperature, light, and humidity. It also makes software that analyzes the noise to determine its source and provide information about how to minimize it.
While Quietyme’s software and sensors could be useful in several different settings, co-founder and CEO John Bialk said for now his company is focusing on hospital noise. It’s a big enough and tricky enough problem that hospitals are willing to pay for technology that helps them minimize it.
To an outsider, ambient and sudden noise in hospitals might not seem like that big of a deal. But studies have shown it can disturb the sleep of patients enough to impair their recovery. Patients also frequently cite it on surveys as a cause for dissatisfaction, and that information is harming hospitals’ bottom line as Medicare and insurance providers are paying more attention to patient experience scores.
Hospitals in recent years have taken steps to reduce obvious sources of noise, but they’re still struggling.
“They already know it’s loud,” Bialk said. “If reducing noise were that easy, they would have solved the problem already.”
In his view, hospitals have necessary and unnecessary noise. The former includes doctors and nurses talking with patients and alarms going off when there’s an emergency. The latter could come from places where visitors and staff tend to congregate.
Quietyme sensors use the ZigBee wireless standard, and most of the components are purchased off the shelf. The devices are simple enough that they just need to be plugged in to an electrical outlet. The sensors transmit data directly to each other to avoid interfering with the building’s Wi-Fi network, before reaching a hub connected to the Internet. From there, the information goes to Quietyme, where its analytics software interprets it.
The startup can send customers urgent alerts, but in most cases it sends aggregate data on a regular basis that identifies trouble spots, Bialk said, because users don’t want to be overwhelmed with information. After all, nurses have enough to worry about and don’t need to be bombarded with notifications whenever someone has the TV on too loudly. In the case of hospitals, it will most likely go to their facilities management staff.
As the company has progressed, with costumers paying less attention to the sensors.
“We started off thinking we were a hardware company, and that we had built a piece of hardware that would do something for people. Then we realized we were a data company, but then we realized nobody just uses data, they need solutions,” Bialk said.
The results of the pilot projects show the testers have cut noise by 50 percent, and patients have given them higher scores on satisfaction surveys, according to Quietyme.
Bialk has big ambitions. He notes there are about 5,000 hospitals in the U.S., and thinks Quietyme can get sensors in about a third of them within two or three years. That will take a lot of work and require the company to sign up customers faster than it has so far.
The company is on track to be in up to 150 hospitals by the end of the year, Bialk said, but has sensors in just 25 hospitals at the moment. Getting them in that many facilities has been a time-consuming challenge. The startup cold-called about 2,500 hospitals across the U.S. Hospitals in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Virginia, and Hawaii, among other states, participated in a demonstration test. Bialk said more than 90 percent of the testers plan on deploying the sensors.
Along with proving the technology, the recruitment process has helped Quietyme refine its business and learn how to work in what can often be a sclerotic system. When the pilot programs began, it took about six months from the first sales approach to the beginning of the trial. Now it’s down to two months, Bialk said.
To achieve those goals, Quietyme will need to move quickly. The company now has about 24 employees and probably will double its headcount within a year, and Bialk said it is working on a $3 million Series A round. It already has raised $1.5 million in seed funding and was a graduate of the Gener8tor accelerator in Madison. Bialk said the company brought in more than $300,000 in revenue last year, and that should pick up as hospitals enrolled in free demonstration programs become paying customers.
Quietyme also could boost business by partnering with a company that already has an established record making devices used in hospitals, he said.
Bialk said if the hospital rollout goes well, Quietyme plans to more aggressively pursue hotels and multitenant housing, two markets it has intended to target since the company’s early days. The latter could be very lucrative, he said, as there are about 38 million apartments in the U.S., and the owners aren’t just interested in noise. Quietyme’s lead investor, Madison-based American Family Insurance, is most interested in seeing if the sensors can help warn of potential damage to buildings it insures, such as mold or “freeze ups” that could lead to burst pipes that might damage units. Bialk’s background is in real estate, and he said he managed a $45 million property portfolio.