Research examines how room design contributes to optimal caregiving and healing
By: Marti Leitch
COLUMBUS, Ohio – When it comes to a hospital stay, new research shows patients and family members care deeply about privacy, accessibility and comfort in their rooms – things that they say can help them recover from illness or surgery.
“When we’re sick and feeling vulnerable, it’s especially important to feel in control of our surroundings – privacy, room temperature, lighting, window blinds and having our things within reach,” said Emily Patterson, an associate professor in The Ohio State University College of Medicine, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.
Patterson was first author on a study to identify what’s most important to patients and caregivers about the way hospital patient rooms are designed. With input from hospital staff, the team developed five room designs and asked study participants for their reactions. Results from the study were recently published by the Journal of Health Environments Research and Design.
The study involved 61 patients and family members who had experienced at least one three-day stay in a hospital medical-surgical unit during the last 12 months. Small groups of participants walked through full-scale hospital rooms, each 300 square feet. They were also surveyed about general patient room design characteristics, such as outlet placement and bathroom doors.
“We included a number of features we thought would be beneficial for patients, based on earlier interviews about challenges patients and caregivers had to overcome during their stay,” Patterson said.
The team analyzed the comments and data collected to develop codes they could group based on physical room space, or need. From this, the researchers developed a theoretical design framework showing the key expectations for hospital room elements.
To help patients feel more comfortable, the study found they need to have control of their privacy, including avoiding being ‘on display’ to people in the hallway by having a privacy curtain at the room door which they control. Inside the room, patients want to use the bathroom without being seen or heard by visitors.
Patients also need a sense of security – knowing who’s entering the room and their role, a safe for valuables in the room and independent access to their belongings within reach.
“We heard that often those belongings are stored in a tray table that gets moved out of reach by caregivers or family,” Patterson said.
According to the American Hospital Association, there are more than 35 million hospital admissions in the United States each year. The average length of stay is nearly five days.
For those who may be hospitalized longer, researchers found maintaining a strong sense of connection to people is important. Patients need visitors to sit close enough to easily touch and have eye-level conversations, easy access to phones and personal computing devices and easy-to-reach outlets for charging those devices.
This research is part of a larger effort to examine both patient and hospital staff needs when it comes to room design and function for optimal caregiving and healing. The team believes their findings will inform the planning, design and renovation of medical-surgical patient rooms in hospitals.
“Some of the findings are inexpensive and possible to incorporate, even without changing architectural design,” Patterson said. “Each change can improve the patient and family experience by reducing unnecessary stress and anxiety and enhancing the healing process.”
Patterson also said meeting patient and family needs in room design is anticipated to improve responses on a majority of questions on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey.
Patterson acknowledges the findings don’t meet the needs of all patients, such as those with cognitive or mobility challenges, and bariatric patients who may need larger furnishings, equipment and space for caregiving.
Funding for the research was provided by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.