For health care systems in the midst of a new construction or renovation, a list of top design goals may read something like this:

  1. Increase patient satisfaction.
  2. Optimize staff efficiency.
  3. Ensure flexible capacity to handle fluctuating demand.
  4. Build to accommodate future technology.
  5. Ensure a sustainable design.

Depending on environment and needs, that list can have a bevy of other goals included, but another one that should always make the cut is cleanability. In a nationwide effort to reduce health care-associated infections, the way a building is designed and the materials and furniture placed inside can have great impact, which is why environmental services and infection prevention leaders should be included early in the design process.

Makers of health care furniture are surely thinking along those lines. A recent article, “Furnishings and materials to aid infection prevention,” highlights products that place equal value on fashion and function by creating furniture that is easy to clean but also modern and comfortable.

Linda Lybert, president of Healthcare Surface Consulting LLC and co-founder of the Healthcare Surfaces Summit, says that surface selection in health care facilities is a foundational issue.

“Most people think of surfaces as part of the design and construction process rather than part of an infection prevention and control program,” she writes. “When selecting materials, a lot of focus tends to be given to colors and textures. Although these aspects of a surface material are certainly important, there are many other surface properties that are critically important, yet are not thought about or given proper evaluation. After all, the most soothing color and texture is of little value to a surface that cannot be cleaned or disinfected properly.”

Read her “Seven aspects of surface selection” for helpful advice on health care interior design.

Many hospitals are taking a discerning second look at their material selections. For instance, Sentara Healthcare is in the middle of a systemwide rollout of copper-infused linens, patient gowns and hard surfaces in its 12 hospitals located in Virginia and North Carolina. The system made the decision after conducting a 10-month study that showed copper’s superior infection-prevention capabilities. The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, tested 20 flooring products before finding the right material to meet its goals, including cleanability and infection control. It installed its chosen product in 56 inpatient rooms at its Adolf Meyer Building.

These two hospitals show the value in viewing current norms with a critical eye, especially when a surface replacement is already in order. However, involving environmental services and infection prevention leaders to look at these issues early in the design process can help to bolster a hospital’s long-term sustainability infection-prevention goals.

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