Designing for Infection Prevention

Not too long ago the fact that some patients would contract a healthcare-associated infection (HAI) seemed inescapable. But over the past few years, there has been a very heavy and justified emphasis on hygiene management in hospitals. And while we've been quite successful in reducing these HAI's, previous hygiene concepts have ignored one rather obvious aspect of hospital hygiene: the architecture of the actual facility itself. As architects, we can help by creating designs that enable the practice of proper protocols instead of inhibiting them. Healthcare designers must become students of infection control best practices and use our knowledge of space utilization to encourage exceptional infection prevention techniques.

The Elephant in the Room, is the Room.

This isn't a problem to take lightly. Approximately one in 25 patients in the US contract an HAI on any given day. That's because a bacterial strain like carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, (CRE) – that kills one in two people if in the bloodstream – can be caused by something as simple as water splashing out of a sink or a counter that didn't get wiped down properly. Healthcare designers can create beautiful spaces, but we also need to be utilizing materials and design techniques in those spaces that protect against the spread of infection. A few of these include: Copper Copper finishes are naturally antimicrobial and are specifically used to kill E. coli, certain strains of Methicillin-resistance Staphylococcus aureus, and many other infective agents. It's also aesthetically pleasing and easy to incorporate. For example, copper door handles used to help prevent HAI's are not only effective but also add richness and warmth to the space. Photoactive Pigments Glass, ceramic, and steel surfaces coated in photoactive pigments kill microbes when they are exposed to artificial or natural UV rays. Indigo Lighting Installing indigo LED lighting can help kill bacteria. When bacteria absorb the light emitted by indigo LED bulbs, a chemical reaction is caused that destroys the microbe's cells. Implementing these infection-control features into your design can instantly improve the safety of patients, visitors and staff!  

Making Sanitation Easy.

Architecture should promote easy cleaning of surfaces – removing barriers in materials while reducing hard-to-clean items like curtains and porous surfaces. Creating a room that has multiple finishes, each with their own cleaning requirements, doesn’t lend itself for proper sanitation. Minimizing the different types of surfaces used in any space is better for maintaining the proper level of cleanliness. Bacteria will take full advantage of any space it can!

A Healthy Future.

While we know a lot more than we knew a couple of decades ago, we still have a ways to go. As we discover more about disease prevention and manufacturers continue introducing new products developed specifically for infection control, our job as designers includes keeping current with industry standards to ensure we use the best materials and tactics available. What are your thoughts? Have you thought about the impact architecture can have on preventing diseases? Let us know!

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