Over time, evidence-based design saves money and lives

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The political implications of healthcare reform have been furiously debated this summer almost to the exclusion of other factors that hospitals will have to face, including the impact reform will have on the physical make-up of healthcare facilities.

Joe Flower, CEO of The Change Project, Inc., and its healthcare-education branch, Imagine What If, outlined what hospitals can expect from “the Next Health Care” in a timely and well-written July 24, 2012, column published on the Hospitals & Health Networks Daily website.

Flower urges healthcare executives to start asking several pertinent and complex questions about their facilities, such as, “What’s the [building’s] purpose?”; “How are you going to build it?”; How will it “relate to the hospital, the med-surg floors, the imaging center, labs, the ED?”; “How do you go about designing these environments not only to meet the new business structures, but also to take advantage of the emerging data environment, and to take patient safety to an unprecedented level?”

Flower stresses that the physical healthcare environment is different from other physical environments. Healthcare environments must be designed with patient safety as the first priority. For example, curtains host many deadly pathogens and should be replaced with pathogen-resistant window coverings. Multiple fingers touching the same charts shouldn’t even be allowed in the next healthcare, nor should polished linoleum floors, two-patient rooms, harsh sound levels, long transports, etc.

Most disturbingly, organizations are spending millions, if not billions of dollars on the same mistakes, and Flower succinctly states that they’re missing “the nub of the problem,” which is, “You’re building a building for highly complex purposes in a rapidly changing demographic, clinical and business environment, and you want that building to continue to be useful for decades into the future.”

It is for these reasons and many others that evidence-based design is so important, Flower writes. Yes, the upfront costs are expensive, but according to the 2011 Fable Hospital report, over time this expense becomes savings. A $350-million hospital project using evidence-based refinements may add $29 million in costs, but those refinements will ultimately save the hospital $10 million annually.

The entire column is important reading and can be found here. In the words of Flower, “Time for some big learning.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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