profession

Hospitals can save $10 million a year with safety measures

Single rooms with plenty of natural light and ceiling-mounted patient lifts shorten lengths of stay and reduce workers' compensation costs, experts say.

By — Posted Feb. 2, 2011

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

Single-bed patient rooms, wider bathroom doors, ubiquitous hand-hygiene facilities and other hospital design elements add to the costs of construction but can pay for themselves within a few years, according to a series of journal articles published in January.

A package of evidence-based elements such as single rooms with bigger windows and ceiling-mounted patient lifts would add about $30 million to the cost of building a 300-bed, $320 million hospital. But the design could save an estimated $10 million a year by shortening lengths of stay and cutting workers' compensation costs, said the lead article of a set essays in the January/February Hastings Center Report (link).

The journal is published by The Hastings Center, a Garrison, N.Y.-based bioethics think tank.

Many previous studies have concluded that adding safety measures to hospital design can help prevent patient falls, infections and worker injuries, the article said.

"Nothing in this article is about frills," said lead author Blair L. Sadler, a former hospital CEO who is now an industry consultant and a senior fellow at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement. "This is not about a soaring 20-foot atrium and fancy marble whatever. This is not the Ritz-Carlton. This is sensible ... thoughtful stuff that makes a real difference in patients' lives and therefore can help hospitals do better in the marketplace."

Comparing old hospitals and new

Most of the cost and quality data on the effects of health design come from studies of outcomes during a baseline period in the old hospital compared with experience in the newly constructed facility. One case study in the journal examined results at the 432-bed Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Ore.

The new building's design includes single-patient rooms, lots of natural light and soothing art and warm colors on the walls. The hospital's length of stay fell from 4.18 days in the old hospital to 3.82 days, even though the patient population in the new facility was sicker. Patient satisfaction scores jumped to 86%. Meanwhile, costs per adjusted discharge dropped 5.4%, or $790 per admission, from $14,559 to $13,769.

More hospital executives are picking up on the trend, Sadler said, and the American Institute of Architects has endorsed single-patient rooms as a hospital design standard. The barriers to widespread adoption of design-safety ideas include lack of familiarity with the evidence and the difficulty of justifying upfront capital costs with longer-term savings, said Sadler, a former member of the Center for Health Design's board of directors.

Beyond quality improvement and cost cutting, Sadler sees an ethical dimension to the question of health care design.

"When you have environmental attributes that contribute to reducing errors and harm, isn't there an ethical imperative to use them?" he asked.

Back to top


ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISE HERE


Featured
Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story


Read story

Goodbye

American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story


Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story


Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story


Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story


Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story


Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story


Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story