Are hospitals designed to make you sicker?

Feeling trapped

Everyone knows you can’t rest in a hospital with the constant beeping of equipment, uncoordinated visits by nurses—medication, blood draws, change of IVs all at different times—chatter of visitors, and the list goes on. I just read an article by a doctor who adds the design of hospital buildings to the list of problems. Number one on his list is shared rooms, which exacerbates the problem of hospital-acquired infections affecting up to 30 percent of intensive care patients, i.e. the most vulnerable. While private rooms are more expensive, the cost is made up by shorter stays when the number of infected patients is reduced.

Further, private rooms are essential to preserving confidentiality of one’s medical condition. Patients in curtained spaces have been known to withhold part of their medical history or refuse exams. One commenter to the article described being party to his roommate’s overpowering, gag-inducing stench when his colostomy bag was changed. Sorry, I hope you’re not eating breakfast while you’re reading this, but imagine if you were eating next to this in the hospital.

In addition, installing easier-to-clean surfaces, well-positioned sinks and high-quality air filters can further reduce infection rates. Falls can be reduced with improved lighting, less slippery floors, toilets at a proper height, and unobstructed paths to bathrooms. Nurses can get to patients more quickly if stations are decentralized. Noise can be mitigated through sound-absorbing acoustic panels, thicker walls, and fewer unnecessary alarms.

Another commenter described a hospital building, which required using an elevator, which only ascended to the first floor and then travel through a maze of hallways to a second bank of elevators.

Then there are the aesthetics that improve healing through inducing calm and lifting spirits. Studies show the more nature the better. Views of trees from windows that open to fresh air shorten stays and need for pain medication. Similar research found that patients with bipolar disorder did better in east-facing rooms with morning sunlight. Psychiatric patients require fewer medications for anxiety when photos of landscapes hang on their walls, and patients watching nature videos have higher tolerance for pain, more positive emotions, and lower heart rates and blood pressure.

The article by Dhruv Khullar M.D., M.P.P. concludes with: research supports an urgent need to change the way we build, maintain and work in hospitals, and many facilities could do more to promote rest and healing while preventing stress and infection. It’s clear that evidence-based medical care will require evidence-based hospital design.

PS The more nature the better motto goes for everyday life and is more important than ever when too many of us are wired to our de-vices.

Based on NYTimes: Hospital Design Article