The health care design community recently found itself involved in one of those Internet-fueled controversies that have become a regular part of our national discourse when results from a study on the effects of architecture on patient satisfaction flashed across the Web. The reports created many sparks, but shed little light on an important topic.

At the heart of the commotion was an article in the March 2015 issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine titled “Changes in Patient Satisfaction Related to Hospital Renovation: Experience With a New Clinical Building.” In the article, two teaching physicians at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and their colleagues analyzed HCAHPS and Press Ganey results to see what role hospital renovations play in patient satisfaction.

The results, which found significant improvement in facility-related satisfaction scores for such things as noise levels and visitor comfort but little improvement in staff-related scores, were widely circulated over mainstream websites, Twitter streams and on specialty blogs. The findings typically were trumpeted to mean that patient-centered design features were devised to distract patients from unsatisfactory care.

As somebody who’s covered the health facility planning, design and construction field for a number of years, I immediately saw one problem with this characterization. Namely, I’ve never heard anybody involved in health care design or hospital operations opine that a pleasant facility design can make up for poor care.

A second problem seemed to be the way the coverage focused on aesthetics, with little regard for the more discrete design features used to make hospitals safer and more efficient. Indeed, the study’s authors suggested that additional research should focus on evaluating satisfaction results from hospitals that have completed patient safety and provider satisfaction initiatives, including design features that improve safety, workflow, efficiency, productivity and stress, among other enhancements.

While the study adds interesting new data to the existing literature on health care design, it’s a shame that its impact was distorted in the context-free zone of the Internet.