A recent article in The New York Times about the pitfalls of hospital design raised eyebrows not so much because of what it said, but because of who wrote it: a resident physician from Harvard Medical School.
Having regularly worked 30-hour shifts, Dr. Dhruv Khullar practically lives at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is intimately familiar with the inner workings of a modern American hospital, and the way he describes it, it is a veritable minefield of problems. Not only does poor hospital design make it harder for sick people to recover, it could make them sicker and even kill them, he says.
The problems Dr. Khullar describes won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has spent much time in a hospital. Sharing a room with a coughing roommate not only makes it harder for a sick patient to get much-needed rest, it can increase their risk of contracting an infection in the hospital. That lack of privacy also makes it more difficult for a patient to discuss personal details of their condition with doctors and nurses.
Low lighting, slippery floors and too-high or too-low toilets make the risk of serious injury from falls a major problem. Drab rooms with little or no natural light are detrimental to patients’ psychological well-being, which can in turn affect their physical well-being.
“As a doctor, I’m struck daily by how much better hospitals could be designed,” wrote Dr. Khullar. “…the deficiencies aren’t simply unaesthetic or inconvenient. All those design flaws may be killing us.”
Dr. Khullar hasn’t discovered anything new. In fact, in his own article he cites the work of Roger Ulrich, a Swedish professor of architecture whose research from the 1970s and ‘80s documented how better hospital design could improve patient outcomes.
Hospitals designers and administrators have long been aware of steps that can be taken to make hospitals safer and, well, more hospitable. Sound-absorbing acoustic panels. Better air filters. Easier-to-clean surfaces. The list goes on. And yet, little seems to be changing. According to the CDC, on any given day about one in 25 hospital patients has at least one “health care-associated infection,” meaning an infection they contracted through medical treatment.
When you are in the hospital, it can feel like so much of what is happening is out of your control. Research suggests that “the increased cost of having single-occupancy rooms is more than offset by the money saved because of fewer infections,” Khullar writes. But whether you get a private room often is not up to you.
However, there are some steps you can take to protect your health. Consumer Reports offers several good tips, such as asking any health care workers who touch you whether they have washed their hands.
Until hospitals change the way they build, maintain and operate their facilities, it’s essential to be an advocate for yourself or your loved one. And if you believe you may have contracted an infection or suffered some other injury while in the hospital, it’s important to have an advocate on your side to get to the bottom of what happened. Contact the Medical Malpractice attorneys at Sommers Schwartz to review your case.