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Hospital Design and Patient Safety

Patient safety is not an isolated topic–it permeates everything about medical care–from the first contact with a patient through a discharge and including follow-up care. In addition, a complete focus on preventing harm in medical settings also looks beyond the actual care provided by staff members. That is because the physical design and maintenance of the locations also factor into safety. It is critical that all those working in the field take a holistic approach so that these spaces are always those of healing and not the site of preventable accidents and injuries.

A recent article from Fierce Healthcare explored the topic, noting how important the physical space itself factors into error-free healthcare.

Preventing Hospital Falls
Perhaps the most obvious way the physical environment at a hospital can cause harm relates to falls. Many medical patients have mobility issues and strength problems. As a result, they may be prone to falls. It seems obvious that the design of these medical facilities take that risk into account, seeking to limit damage.

The Center for Health Design recently discussed a report which found that things like floor tile and safety bars affected fall risks. For example, linoleum was far riskier for falls than alternative floor coverings, like vinyl or ceramic tile. The risks are especially pronounced in the bathroom, as large numbers of falls occur inside or on the way to the bathroom. The same study also concluded that two grab bars in the restrooms lower fall risks compared to one. Interestingly, the total number of bathrooms also plays a role in fall risks. More falls occur when a bathroom is not inside a room or when several patients share a bathroom. The safest design is that of one bathroom per patient inside a room.

Infection Control
One of the main issues is limiting the risk of hospital acquired infections. Blog readers are well aware of the fact that far too many patients go into a hospital for one ailment only to develop an infection (sometimes deadly) while inside. As researcher explore ways to limit those infections, they’ve uncovered that some hospital designs and features increase the risk. For example, water features (decorative water walls and fountains) can lead to increase risk of Legionnaires disease.

Maintenance Matters
It is also critical that all locations be kept up to avoid spills, cracks, or others obstacles that may cause harm. This is true in all environments, but the risk may be especially pronounced in hospitals where those in the facility already have health problems. A story from Infection Control Today mentioned how one facility had water lines accidentally crossed. This led to dangerous temperature fluctuations during dialysis treatments. In another case, inadequate back-up protocols led to a patient’s ventilator stopping in the midst of a power outage.

The take-away lesson is that medical facility administrators must be vigilant about all aspects of the facility to ensure patient safety. It is never acceptable for a patient to suffer a preventable accident or receive less than adequate care because patient safety was not properly prioritized. If you or someone you know is ever harmed in this way, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be appropriate.

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