How Does the Hospital Environment Influence Outcomes & Patient Satisfaction

Two of the biggest buzzwords in health care today are now being applied to the way hospital rooms are designed – giving us the twin concepts of patient-centric design and evidence-based design.

Hospitals are moving away from traditional, clinically oriented design in favor of an environment that is more comforting and familiar to patients.

It’s all based on the idea that the perfect hospital environment can not only promote rest and healing, but can also aid in preventing patient falls, hospital-acquired infections, and certain kinds of medical errors. For an idea of how this all comes into play, take a look at this infographic from the Wall Street Journal, depicting The Hospital Room of the Future.

Patient-centric design often highlights the role of nurses as frontline caregivers and streamlines interactions between the nurse, patient, and family members. An example is nursing work stations that are strategically located at the entrance to patient rooms, instead of in a centralized location farther away from patients.

A dynamic environment can also emphasize best practices in infection control – for example, by placing sinks and sanitizer stations at the point of use, and using a visual reminder like a light to prompt clinicians to practice good hand hygiene. According to an article in Health Care Design magazine, furnishings can also have a big impact on hospital-acquired infections. In patient-centric and evidence-based design, furniture and surfaces are easy to clean and disinfect. They feature rounded corners, non-textured surfaces, and clean lines that offer pathogens and dust fewer places to hide. Likewise, furnishings can be designed to minimize the likelihood of falls.

A recent New York Times article explored the trend of luxury amenities in hospital rooms – high-ticket items that might include private rooms, plush couches, or organic food by a celebrity chef. It included a rather controversial quote by a health economist who believes the demand for a hospital correlates more to its hospitality services than to quality of care. Of course, this point of view is the antithesis of nursing philosophy. According to Karen Kapke, Ph.D., MS, GNP, FNP, professor of nursing at American Sentinel University, “The focus of nursing care remains on the health outcomes of the patient, the use of evidence-based practice standards to assure safe and effective patient care, and the provision of an environment conducive to rest and healing.”

Yet, there may be good ways to apply the concept of hospitality to health care – by reducing environmental stressors, for example. This is where evidence-based design comes into play: research has shown that sleep is important to both mental and physical health. Patients face an enormous number of disturbances every day and noise is a common source of patient dissatisfaction. Since hospitals are now being ranked on patient satisfaction scores through the HCAHPS survey, there’s a new emphasis on using technology to reduce extraneous noise, for example by replacing overhead paging systems with a nurse call system that routes a request to a mobile phone. Patient monitoring devices can also be designed to send an alert to a specific individual, rather than beeping and clanging in a patient room.

In some cases, hospitals are moving away from traditional, clinically oriented design in favor of an environment that is more comforting and familiar to patients. Health Care Design magazine recently featured this fascinating article about a facility in Alaska that brought in a cultural advisory committee to inform their design. They visited remote villages where native Alaskans live, in order to formulate a list of priorities not only for the health care needs of the community, but for the inpatient experience as well – an example of true patient-centric design.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is also behind the concept of patient-centric design, stating that a move toward this model may improve not only patient safety and quality of care, but staff retention rates as well. It compiled several research studies that back up this hypothesis and you can read a brief synopsis of them online. There are also many interesting articles and case studies at the Institute for Patient-Centered Design website.

Are you interested in complex topics like health care policy and evidence-based design? Arm yourself with knowledge through a flexible, online RN-to-BSN degree program through American Sentinel University.