Stress among health care workers is a common malady. And that stress can negatively affect performance in high-pressure environments such as operating rooms (ORs). There is good news, however, and that’s because recognizing and addressing the distinct requirements concerning spatial layout and then incorporating these considerations into the design of ORs can help reduce stress, according to a recent study published in the Health Environments Research & Design Journal, “Improving the Mental Health of Surgical Teams Through Operating Room Design.”

Researchers came to this conclusion after conducting a study designed to establish a quantifiable approach for assessing OR design from the viewpoint of OR team members, with an emphasis on supporting their mental health and reducing their stress levels. To investigate this issue, researchers administered a survey to quantify staff perceptions and experiences and led in-depth focus group discussions to generate qualitative insights from three surgical teams from the same U.S.-based organization.

After conducting this multipronged study, researchers concluded that design interventions can, in fact, have a significant impact on OR staff stress. 

“Design interventions can be implemented on several levels, including the rearrangement of equipment within the OR, transforming adjacent rooms into spaces dedicated to the well-being of staff members and, ultimately, redesigning the entire layout of the surgical department to enhance movement efficiency,” says Lisa Lim, assistant professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and one of the authors. “However, the critical factor is to approach these changes from the perspective of the users, taking into account the varied needs associated with their specific roles.” 

The study specifically identified four integral sections — patient flow; room organization; access to facilities, medical equipment, support staff and team members; and staff well-being — as critical design factors associated with the experiences and stress levels of the surgical teams in the ORs.

The functional scenario analysis specifically revealed that design interventions must be able to efficiently improve patient flow by enabling OR team members to move the bed in and out of the room efficiently and access the preoperative area and post-anesthesia care unit from the OR. 

Design interventions need to focus on the organization of the room as well. The area should provide enough space for team members to move around during an operation as well as a clear area to move equipment around without obstructing the sterile field. Other recommendations include space for registered nurses to chart and attend to the needs of the OR and for surgeons to access a whiteboard to illustrate things during the operation, as well as dictation rooms. Team members need to visually access screens and monitors during the operation, and lighting needs to provide sufficient visibility. 

Finally, leaders must consider staff well-being. As a result, it’s important to make it possible for team members to easily access windows, restrooms, break rooms and amenities, such as locker rooms and cafeterias.