Hospital design promotes better healing

Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, Calif.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: We've all heard it: The most dangerous place to be if you're sick is the hospital. Every year thousands of patients are admitted for one problem and end up with another. According to the Centers for Disease Control, so-called hospital-acquired infections cost more than $30 billion every year. And it all adds up to more health care costs. Not to mention the added pain and suffering for patients.

As part of our ongoing coverage of health reform, "The Cure," Marketplace's Caitlan Carroll looks at how one hospital is tackling the problem by design.


CAITLAN CARROLL: I sink into an oversized chair with velvety pillows and contemplate the Japanese garden outside. Sunlight pours in through big windows. And as the sound of piano music starts up, I shake myself and think, "Wait, I'm in a hospital."

DAN GROSS: The two comments we often hear is it feels like Nordstrom's, or we feel like we're at the W Hotel.

Dan Gross is executive vice president of Sharp Healthcare. I meet up with him in the lobby for my tour of the swanky Sharp Memorial. Its a $200-million hospital in San Diego. And it's built with the principals of what's known as "evidence-based design."

GROSS: There's a lot of research today and a lot of conversation around how the design of a hospital really promotes comfort, healing and produces better quality outcomes for patients.

Better outcomes as in fewer medical errors, infections and injuries. That saves hospitals, patients and insurers a lot of money.

Gross points to a row of elevators to explain how the building design works.

GROSS: When we started designing our public transportation and our elevator system, we stole from the Disney concept of on-stage and off-stage work.

There are a separate set of elevators for the public to keep germs away from patients with weak immune systems. Nurses have private areas "off stage" where they can prepare medications uninterrupted, so there are fewer distractions and fewer mistakes.

As we get in the elevator to see the rooms, Gross tells me that patients are more relaxed, too.

GROSS: They're resting and sleeping more than they ever have before and the request for pain medications are decreasing.

Most hospitals are about as calm and relaxing as a busy airport.

But at Sharp the only noise you might hear is Dan Gross hushing some nurses as we get off the elevator.

GROSS: Shhhh. Good morning, ladies.

At Sharp, loud speakers are rarely used. There are no big carts rumbling down the hallways.

Nurse Carol DeVito says she had something to do with that. Staff members like her weighed in on the design changes.

CAROL DEVITO: Actually I said these are non-negotiable. Two things, very simple, one was a linen hamper in every room, and the second thing was that I asked that we have some kind of cabinet or cart.

That way there is less need to move things. It's quieter and germs can't hitchhike on equipment as it rolls from room to room.

GROSS: Here we are in one of our patient care rooms...

Dan Gross shows me the pull-out-couch for family members who want to spend the night. All the rooms are private. Heart surgeon Sam Baradarian says having a second patient in the room was distracting.

SAM BARADARIAN: There was just a lot of noise. There was a lot of interruptions.

Now the families can focus on the treatment plan. This can help patients get out of the hospital more quickly and stay well when they go home. So they spend less to get better.

BARADARIAN: It's just nice having a private room so you can speak candidly to the patients.

The single rooms, the extra nursing stations and additional medical gear can add millions of dollars to initial construction.

Blair Sadler is a senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. He says the investment pays off.

BLAIR SADLER: Well if something costs an additional million dollars once and reduces operating costs by half-a-million dollars year after year after year, the payback becomes pretty obvious.

Even small things like decorations can make a big difference.

Derek Parker is a hospital architect and a co-founder of the Center for Health Design. He worked on Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.

DEREK PARKER: The artwork there, which is really museum quality, I discovered later it really isn't so much for the children as it is for the parents who wander the halls at night when the children are sleeping.

At Sharp, families have a comfortable place to get coffee, put their feet up and gaze out at the garden. Even the beds play lullabies to help patients forget for a moment that they're in a hospital. If that helps patients relax, heal and get out of the hospital faster, that's music to everyone's ears.

In San Diego, I'm Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.

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