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Improvements in Hospital Design May Help Improve Outcomes

New designs appear to speed recovery and lower infection rates

Research has shown that newly designed hospitals may not only increase patient satisfaction and traffic, but also lead to fewer infections, decreased lengths of stay, and improvements in patient outcomes, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review. The authors examined “before and after” costs of newly designed hospitals and outcomes data to determine whether the changes had a desirable effect on value.

In one of the article's examples, a McGill University hospital in Montreal cut hospital-acquired infections by more than half by redesigning its intensive care unit from shared to private rooms. The lengths of stays in the intensive care unit also fell by 10 percent.

The new findings echo the initial results of a three-year program at the University of Chicago, which documented how new room designs affected bacterial growth. An early analysis showed that everything from ventilation and humidity levels to the type of material used for countertops and other surfaces influenced microbial growth. In essence, the hospital itself could become a treatment for patients, one researcher said.

Other design-related findings highlighted in the new report inlcude:

  • Hospital gardens help speed healing as well as help family members and staff deal with stress. The garden doesn't have to be outdoors; a nature-filled atrium works just as well.
  • Images of nature that hang in the lounge of an acute psychiatric clinic saved a hospital more than $30,000 in injections that would have otherwise been used to calm agitated patients, according to the article.
  • A redesign of maternity and neonatal units that allowed mothers to hold their babies next to their skin cut 10 days from the hospitalization time for premature infants, slashed morbidity rates, and reduced the need for babies to use a ventilator. 

Sources: Harvard Business Review, October 5, 2015; and FierceHealthcare, October 6, 2015.

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