Wes Hawkins

by Wes Hawkins

Director - Healthcare Design

7 Design Elements to Prevent HAIs

  • FEBRUARY 20, 2015
  • READ

Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) cost healthcare providers billions of dollars each year, not to mention the impact on patients and families. The CDC recently published its national report on HAIs stating that on any given day, approximately 1 out of every 25 U.S. patients has contracted at least one new infection during their hospital stay. However, there are ways to leverage design to prevent HAIs.

HAIs cost billions

The healthcare industry has made progress through its HAI Action Plan, but there’s more that can be done.

To fight these disruptive germs, why not start at the very beginning—with the building’s design?

Start with a conversation where company culture and design aesthetic are married with functional and purposeful elements. Conceptualize how each space will be used - not just by patients and providers - but by environmental service staff and visitors.

Asking questions about day-to-day functions are very informative and helpful, such as:

- What do their routines look like?
- What are their preferences? Daily challenges?
- What are any limitations within each user group?

This discussion helps designers create something that reacts to the reality about how each space will function. While not always easy, multi-disciplinary dialogue throughout planning and design allows the team to make the best choices and appropriately analyze the benefits and drawbacks of various design options.

During such a conversation your design team will have a lot of ideas in their arsenal. Here are seven design ideas that you will want to make sure are discussed. All of the elements below help establish a barrier for transmission of HAIs throughout healthcare facilities.

1. Hand Washing Placement 

Celebrate the sink. Position the hand washing station as a focus of the room, so that the patient can see when doctors, nurses, and family wash their hands. Hand washing is the number one way to prevent the spread of HAIs. This is not only important in patient rooms but throughout the hospital.

2. Cubicle Curtains

Being frequently washed and/or replaced, costs can creep up. Anti-microbial fabrics help, but curtains are prone to the transmittal of HAIs. Making rooms less reliant on cubicle curtains is one way to help tackle HAIs. For example: three-sided rooms only need one curtain, yet still have sufficient privacy.

By using sliding doors, curtains can be eliminated
Bing Cancer Center, 2012

3. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Air flow, filtration, velocity, and pressure are all critical. Operating and isolation rooms have drastically different needs than a patient room or waiting area. Based on the space, designers can make sure air flows in a way that helps limit the spread of infection.

Specialized areas have specific ventilation needs
Riverside Methodist Hospital MRgFUS Suite, 2012

4. Humidity

Keep humidity between 20-60% throughout the entire facility. Too much moisture grows bacteria and mold, making the risk for HAI much higher. Conversely, if a space isn't humid enough there's a higher risk of static electricity and ultimately, fire.

5. Maintenance

Frosted windows add privacy + high-level design
Doctors Hospital NICU, 2013

Studies have shown that maintenance is vital to inhibit outbreaks. And this doesn’t just include patient areas, but MEP systems and everything behind the scenes. Get environmental services or facilities staff involved in early decision making to make sure caring for your design won’t put you over budget. 

6. Horizontal Surfaces

Eliminating ledges and horizontal spaces where dust and dirt accumulate is a best practice. Evaluate horizontal design elements against functionality and realistic cleaning expectations.

7. Windows

Choose the right window and covering based on light and privacy preferences. Blinds add light while maintaining privacy, but they also collect dust and germs. Techniques such as adding frost to the window will maximize light and maintain privacy without blinds.

While higher design standards and building code requirements in the healthcare industry help, it’s important to recognize that these are minimum requirements. Studies have shown that best-practice technologies, materials, and design strategies, like the above, have decreased the risk of HAI transmission by lowering the amount of infectious agents in the built environment. To mitigate the physical and financial burden of HAIs it’s important to explore best practices that help defend your facility and its patients.

Wes Hawkins

by Wes Hawkins

Director - Healthcare Design

Wes has extensive experience with complex, large scale medical projects that have enhanced the dynamics of healthcare facilities, starting at the planning stages. When he's not hard at work, Wes enjoys traveling to Jackson Hole or eating Skyline Chili.