Few experiences are more difficult than enduring a hospital stay. But unlike in years past, patients can now educate themselves on both healthcare providers and facilities, much like for many other products and services.

These days, free online resources and patient reviews allow hospitals to be compared across a wide range of criteria. Public access to this information, along with federally mandated healthcare quality report cards, has helped prompt hospital administrators to make great strides in the quality of care they provide.

The greatest risks for patients during a hospital stay are hospital-acquired infections, medical errors and falls. This is where a hospital’s physical design becomes a crucial element of patient health, comfort and well-being. Good hospital design can reduce these risks.

For example, installing a dedicated handwashing sink near the entrance of a patient room has been demonstrated to improve hygiene, which reduces the instances of infection. Proper lighting and layouts reduce potential distraction during preparation of medications, to help prevent drug administration errors. Well-placed handrails, the space to limit clutter, and flooring materials that reduce slipperiness and unevenness, will help prevent patient falls.

There are additional design approaches that architects employ to specifically address concepts for effective caregiving, reducing patient stress and pain levels, and creating safer and more hygienic rooms and healing spaces. For example, it has been proven through research that views of nature reduce stress—and patients with less stress feel less pain and don’t need as much pain medication.

Carefully designed spaces within a healthcare facility can influence patient healing rates, decrease the length of hospital stays, and even impact something as basic as a good night’s sleep. And now, hospitals are financially motivated to offer patients the best level of care possible, as patients often make decisions based on a host of ratings and reviews that are now publicly available to them, many of which are generated by patients themselves.

Consider the following questions when comparing hospitals:

  • How does an institution perform on quality measures, including infection control and medical errors?
  • Has the hospital been cited for lack of compliance in any areas?
  • What do patients say about their care on ratings sites?

Being an educated consumer makes good financial sense when shopping for a car or life insurance, and the stakes are even higher when it comes to healthcare. Fortunately, there are now a multitude of resources available to assist in making the best possible decision. And there has never been a greater priority placed on ensuring hospital design results in a safe, clean, and peaceful healing environment.

About the author: Joan Suchomel, AIA, is an architect and 2016 president of AIA's Academy of Architecture for Health.

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