Patient Rooms: A Changing Scene of Healing

Updated on May 25, 2011

By Doug Bazuin

Change affects all areas of healthcare organizations, and none more so than the patient room. It is there that the issues faced by the major players in healing environments—administrator, caregiver, family member, and the patient – all come into sharp focus. And as hospitals continue to build new or renovate existing facilities, it is imperative that patient rooms be designed to adapt as well as enrich the healthcare environment for all involved in the continuum of care.

Using Design to Deter Infection

Administrators have the same goal as the other key participants in a hospital setting: returning a patient to good health. A key part of that goal is hospital-acquired infection (HAI) prevention.

Germs causing infections can live on surfaces for months, and can be spread easily. While in theory it might take 30 to 60 minutes to thoroughly clean a patient room, the staff might have only eight minutes to clean it before a new patient arrives. One way to compensate for this is to install furnishings designed for easy cleaning, i.e. surfaces without crevices.

Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent infections; unfortunately even healthcare professionals who know the importance of doing it don’t always make time for it: one study reports that 60 percent don’t. Here, too, design matters. Deep, splash-free sinks should be located near the door and at least three feet away from the patient.

Protecting Patients and Their Caregivers

Research points to a real link between hospital environments and patient outcomes. A review of the research literature on evidence-based healthcare design (EBD) – simply “basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes,” according to the Center for Health Design.

As awareness of EBD advances, more hospitals are using it. EBD features most frequently incorporated in patient rooms include single-bed patient rooms, highly visible hand-wash sinks, surfaces and finishes to reduce falls, and rooms with designated zones for patients, families, and clinicians.

This design methodology has been used to increase nurse efficiency. Examples include:
Providing surface space close to the bed for supplies, equipment, or charts
Placing furniture and equipment so there is always room to work next to the bed and close to the patient reducing frustration
Keeping supplies close at hand and clearly labeled because consistent organization and placement of supplies allow caregivers to locate materials easily

Improving caregiver efficiency is good for patients because it leads to better and lower cost of care.

While nurses need an environment that increases their efficiency and allows them to deliver high-quality care, patients need a safe environment to heal. There are factors beyond medical practices that contribute to healing, including:
Access to daylight assists in reducing pain, depression and length of stay as well as improves patient and staff satisfaction
Views of nature have been linked to reduced pain, stress, and length of stay
Decreasing noise levels improves patient sleep and satisfaction, and decreases stress for patient and staff alike

Family Matters

The role of family members has changed from concerned by-stander to member of the care team. Family members are now expected to be fully involved in the healing process and are often found in patients’ rooms around the clock.

Studies show that family involvement in patient care results in better and faster healing. Family zones in the patient room result in fewer patient falls, reduced patient stress and depression.

The design of patient rooms is starting to reflect that change of heart. More consideration is given to the comfort and support of family members. Hospitals are providing not only a comfortable place for family members to sleep, but also lockable family storage space and Wi-Fi.

Doctor’s Orders: Thoughtful Design

Thoughtful design of patient rooms can make a caregiver’s job easier, more rewarding and the work environment more appealing. For family members, design can help encourage participation in recovery, rather than be an obstacle to it. And for hospital administrators, good design lays the groundwork for accommodating change – whatever it may be.

There’s not much that’s for certain in healthcare today. But there is one thing you can count on: the perfect patient room today, if there even is one, will not be the perfect patient room of tomorrow.

Doug Bazuin is a senior healthcare researcher for Herman Miller Healthcare who has studied all aspects of healthcare organizations. He also possesses ten years of new product development experience and has been involved with several new product launches.

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