Should healthcare design be completely patient-driven, and should the comfort and wellbeing of patients be the sole consideration of the planning or updating of a healthcare facility?

Not according to a recent study out of Australia that indicates the look, feel and functionality of a hospital have a direct effect on the retention and attraction of nursing staff. This is particularly interesting today as aging baby boomers flood healthcare facilities seeking medical treatment, straining hospitals that are already seeing nursing shortages.

The study, conducted jointly by the international design firm HASSEL and the University of Melbourne Health Systems Workforce Unit, suggests that “improving hospital nurse attraction and retention will require hospital project teams to focus on design features – specifically, space, proximity and indoor environment quality – that enable nurses to do their work, and demonstrate that their work is valued.”

Additionally, the study indicates that “Actively involving nurses in the design process, particularly in the briefing stages before spatial constraints are set, with a view to improving the provision of comfortable, adequate and appropriate space is likely to have a positive effect on nursing staff attraction and retention.”

And the findings aren’t an anomaly. Additional studies have shown just how demanding nursing is as a career and how design can have a positive or negative impact on nurses. Although a couple of years old, a study by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported that there were 27,020 musculoskeletal disorder injuries in 2010 among healthcare workers in the United States. This number is “more than seven times the average for all industries.”

According to the OSHA report, these “injuries are due in large part to overexertion related to repeated manual patient handling activities, often involving heavy manual lifting associated with transferring, and repositioning patients and working in extremely awkward postures.”

The report goes on to say that examples of patient handling risks include:

  • Transferring from toilet to chair
  • Transferring from chair to bed
  • Repositioning from side to side in bed
  • Lifting a patient in bed
  • Making a bed with a patient in it

OSHA also claims that 20 percent of nurses who opt out of their career make the choice because of the health risks of the job, and that $20 billion is spent annually on healthcare professional back injuries alone.

Many of these issues can be solved through design and, in particular, furniture. Norix, a leading provider of products to the healthcare industry, was an early adopter in producing highly durable and aesthetically pleasing furniture that helps create harmonious spaces in healthcare facilities. And we have done so through innovation and working with those involved in the design of healthcare spaces.

In fact, in April 2011 representatives from Norix Furniture met with staff members at the United States Veterans Administration Medical Center in Brockton, MA. Norix was at this large scale regional medical facility reviewing patient bed options for use in the VA’s acute, secure behavioral ward. Hospital staff in attendance included facility managers, engineering technicians and interior designers, as well as doctors, patient and employee safety managers and – you guessed it – nurses.

The Norix Attenda® Platform Bed was on display for a thorough evaluation. The characteristics of the bed were appreciated as an important remedy to the problems staff had faced with all previous bed options that the industry had to offer. The unique Norix Attenda® Plaform Bed, with its one piece, molded construction, finally presented a solution that met critical needs for a safer, tamper proof and fluid-resistant unit for use in their acute mental health locations.

Additionally, all in attendance said they would be eager to see a bed that combined the design attributes of the Attenda® Floor Mount Bed – solid sides and top surfaces that restrict suicide tie-off points – with the addition of a product that would add height to the bed and allow for a patient lift device to be secured underneath.

Another reason a higher sleep surface was desired?

Nurses there said it would provide additional elevation for easier access when treating and cleaning patients. As a result of the meeting with VA officials, Norix now produces the Attenda® Riser – a free-standing or floor-mounted bed riser designed to pair with the Attenda® Floor Mount Bed.

Less strain. Fewer injuries. Happier nurses. Problem solved – by design.

Additionally, Norix Furniture has worked with leading healthcare interior designers and offers furniture in The Naturals and High Brights color palettes. The hues selected for these two groups are inspired by nature and were selected using evidence-based research for their appropriateness in healthcare facilities of all kinds. When used correctly, these colors calm the equilibrium, promote dignity and boost patient and staff morale, among other benefits.

This isn’t to say we are the only ones steering this emerging trend. Trailblazing architects, interior designers, facility managers and healthcare practitioners (including nurses) are all looking at the actual healthcare environment as part of the treatment of patients and a tool in keeping staff mentally and physically healthy.

After all, it shouldn’t be surprising that design has such a profound impact on nurses. There is probably a plethora of evidence out there that points to facility design as a key figure in the happiness of any employee in any job.

But the findings out of Australia are nonetheless important and bring hope that evidence-based research – including input from those who work in healthcare – will be the driving force behind healthcare design in the future. Because, when you think about it, who would you rather care for you during your next trip to the doctor: a disenfranchised nurse who is experiencing burnout due to their environment or one that feels empowered by it?

Further reading

White Paper: Using Chairs and Seating to Create Safe and Humanized BHC Environments

White Paper: The Role of Color in Humanizing Behavioral Healthcare Design