hospital room of the future
Illustration: Lobulo Design
If you've ever spent time in the hospital, you know it can be a grim and dreary place—not exactly what you'd call a healing atmosphere. But that may soon change. Gathering evidence from more than 1,200 studies, a team of researchers, architects, and healthcare experts has drafted blueprints for an ideal facility, dubbed Fable Hospital 2.0, intended to improve and streamline patient care. The logic: Speedier recoveries translate to lower expenses. (The facility's features would increase construction costs by around $29 million but save about $10 million annually—paying for themselves within three years.) Hospitals around the world have already adopted some of the Fable Hospital's elements, with impressive results. Here's a sneak peek; visiting hours start now.

1. Hand-Sanitizer Pump

Three years after the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C., installed alcohol-based hand-rub dispensers, there was a 21 percent drop in infections from a strain of antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria, and a 41 percent decrease in infections from another drug-resistant bug. These pumps could play a major role in controlling the pathogens that add $45 billion to annual healthcare costs.

2. Private Room

Not having a roommate slashes the risk of airborne infection: A seven-year study showed that nursing home residents in private rooms were three times less likely to catch the flu. Single occupancy means better rest, too. Canadian researchers reported that ICU patients bunking solo got 1.3 more hours of sleep.

3. Carpeting

A 2006 study found that certain pathogens don't survive as well on carpet as on vinyl or rubber flooring. Moreover, carpeting helps reduce injuries from trips and falls. In a study published in Nursing Times, only 17 percent of patients were injured after falling on carpet, versus 46 percent who fell on vinyl. Research also shows that visitors (who provide valuable social support and physical assistance) tend to stay about eight minutes longer on average when rooms are carpeted.

4. A View of Nature

Research published in the journal Science compared postsurgical patients who had a view of trees with those who had a view of a brick wall. The nature gazers needed fewer pain meds, suffered fewer minor complications (such as fever, nausea, and constipation), and stayed an average of .74 fewer days at the hospital.

5. Light-Filled Window

At a Pittsburgh hospital, post-op patients who recovered in sunny rooms took 22 percent less pain medication per hour than patients in dim rooms. Another study found that in cardiac ICUs, the death rate runs about 61 percent higher in facilities that lack natural light. This may be because sunlight boosts serotonin, which inhibits pain pathways and alleviates depression.

6. Spacious Bathroom with Double Doors

Patients often struggle (and even fall) while making their way between the bed and the bathroom, or in the bathroom itself; wider doors and more square footage inside the lavatory would allow staff and family to better assist them. A 2003 Nursing Homes report recommended that toilets be placed so an aide can stand on either side, and that doorways be large enough to accommodate lift devices and wheelchairs.

7. Adaptable Headwall

A behind-the-bed unit with outlets and equipment for different levels of care (IV pumps, ventilators, monitors) means patients don't need to be moved around the hospital as much during their stay. Fewer transfers means fewer mistakes caused by delays and miscommunication among staff. After IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis incorporated these units into its coronary intensive care unit (ICU), medication errors fell by 70 percent.

8. Sound-Absorbing Ceiling Tiles

Swedish researchers who installed high-density fiberglass tiles in an ICU discovered that they lowered noise levels slightly. As a result, patients had more restful sleep, and a lower rate of rehospitalization.

9. Soothing Music

Science has demonstrated that music provides a distraction from pain, decreasing stress, depression, and the length of hospital stays. One study of colonoscopy patients revealed that watching a film of natural scenery reduced pain but didn't affect the amount of medication patients self-administered; combining the movie with music, however, reduced pain and sedation.

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