Strategic hospital room design hastens patient recovery, minimizes staff errors

Patient room design may do more than boost patient satisfaction--it could actually reduce the amount of pain patients experience, lead to shorter hospital stays and decrease physician and staff errors.

Patients who stay in specially designed rooms at the University Medical Center of Princeton--which opened in 2012 and feature an outdoor view, a fold out sofa for guests and a drug dispensary--ask for 30 percent less pain medication, according to a New York Times article.

The single-patient rooms allow more space for family and visitors, and include sinks strategically positioned in patients' line of sight to encourage handwashing among doctors and nurses, according to the article. A handrail from the bed directly to the bathroom also results in fewer patient falls. A double-lock box, accessible from both the hallway and the patient's room, allows pharmacists to drop medication directly into a patient's lock box, where nurses can retrieve the drug and administer it--eliminating the traditional error-prone method of dispensing drugs by hospital floor. 

The hospital reports that patient satisfaction ratings are in the 99th percentile, compared to just 61 percent in the facility's old location, while infection rates and the number of adverse events are lower than ever, the Times reports. 

Although many hospitals strive to improve patient satisfaction and recovery through aesthetics, they often don't choose the right designs to hit their targeted audience, specifically adult patients, according to a Bloomberg View opinion piece by columnist Virginia Postrel.

There's great contrast between pediatric care units, where hospitals take great care to make patients feel safe and at home, and units for adult patients, which can feel less cheerful and bright, according to the piece. Hospitals can even make aesthetic choices that are detrimental to patients, especially older ones, when they install features like highly polished floors, which are hazards for people with failing eyesight, Postrel writes.

Many healthcare facilities now try to prominently display works of art to reduce patient stress and boost satisfaction. Amid evidence that patients react better to landscapes than abstractions, Postrel questions the decision of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in California to feature a cafeteria mural with "threatening" looking abstractions and shapes resembling lions. "There's nothing wrong with the mural as art. It just doesn't belong in a hospital," Postrel writes.

Patients must pressure hospitals to change and hospitals must listen, while providing both quality service and an aesthetic experience that reflect patient preferences and scientific evidence, Postrel writes.

To learn more:
- read the Times article
- here's the Bloomberg View piece