These days, healthcare design is about more than just pretty.
It’s about health.
Sure, healthcare facilities look good these days:
- Marble floors in lobbies
- Upscale artwork on walls
- Mosaic-ed bathrooms and vessel sinks
But it’s really more than that. Healthcare design is intentional.
It’s called evidence-based design, AKA smart design that we know works because it’s backed by research.
What kind of research?
Studies that show how design impacts parameters like the wellbeing of residents, caregivers, and staff.
When a healthcare facility is well-designed in a way that takes everyone into account, they’re all happier, including the CFO of the facility. Because payments for care are depending more on quality of care and on health outcomes — so keeping residents happier and healthier means more money for their facility.
Here are some of the principles of evidenced-based design as it applies to healthcare.
The cleanliness of a facility directly impacts health.
According to the CDC, every single day at least one out of every 31 patients gets a hospital-acquired infection. That’s an infection they didn’t come in with — and it happens in nursing homes and long-term care facilities too.
Because everything a resident comes in contact with must be uber-clean and as sterile as possible, surfaces that are easy to clean are imperative; no finicky materials that will get ruined by bleach or water. Equally important is reducing the spots where bacteria can gather and multiply, like open seams or joints. That’s why nonporous tile is a favorite in healthcare. There are also high tech coatings that can be applied to surfaces to kill bacteria.
Included in cleanliness is airflow: getting clean air into the facility with HVAC systems that are up to ASHRAE’s standards. Where air vents are placed within the resident room can impact how long it takes the air to get cycled out and replaced with new, fresh air — which influences the risk of infection to everyone who enters that room.
If you’re not comfortable, you don’t feel good and it’s hard to recuperate.
I’m talking physical comfort, like a soft chair to sit on, a bed that’s easy to get in and out of, lighting that doesn’t hurt or strain your eyes, a temperature that’s not too cold or too hot. Privacy is part of comfort; research has shown residents don’t like feeling exposed to people in the hallway. As well, they want to be able to reach the things they need, so smart, adjustable bedside tables are key.
Healthcare facilities are finally considering the comfort of staff as well. Healthcare jobs are no picnic; the constant up-and-down and on-your-feet takes a toll on the body. Hence, design aims to make workflows more efficient (like decentralized nursing stations — so nurses are closer to the rooms they’re monitoring). As well, ergonomic designs are vital, like desks that you can adjust to your height.
At home, you can always find your scissors in that drawer next to the fridge. You always put it right back there after you use it. Because that’s where it goes.
Consistency in healthcare is the same idea, but with more serious consequences. Doctors and support staff have to have everything they need for resident care at their fingertips. When design is standardized in all rooms — people get better care. And staff is happier because they’re not fumbling around for the blood pressure cuff they need; it’s right where they expect it to be.
When furniture is consistent too, the patient experience is better. The nurse can adjust the bed or pull the shades, regardless of which room it is, because they’re all the same.
A pivotal study back in the 80s found that post-surgical patients who stayed in a room with a window took less pain medication and had shorter hospital stays. This set off a slew of research into how exposure to nature influences health and recovery.
When residents have more natural light in their rooms, they feel less pain and get better sleep — which helps them recover. There’s even benefit to looking at relaxing scenes from nature, like flowers or trees — an easy fix for healthcare facilities that don’t have the resources to add windows or plant a garden.
Plus, there’s a push to utilize more sustainable, environmentally friendly materials, to promote a healthier world in general.