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Medical Feng Shui

Maureen Larkin, for HealthLeaders Media, May 29, 2008

We've all seen the designers on the home improvement networks talking about the design and flow of a home and how it can affect a person's energy. Turns out that feng shui is a valid concept in healthcare, too. We just call it evidence-based design.

This month in HealthLeaders magazine, I wrote about the new intensive care unit at the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. When designing this ICU, Emory used evidence-based design to eliminate obstacles to quality patient care, and has since seen better patient outcomes and higher staff satisfaction.

Emory has moved most of the machines that typically surround patient beds to a ceiling mount, allowing staff members to have all the equipment they need at arm's reach—without it being in the way. "When we have a crisis, we have no trouble reaching the patient," says Ray Quintero, RN, department director of the neuroscience critical care unit. "A traditional room blocks you from moving freely around a patient's bed, but with the ceiling manager, that doesn't happen."

Each patient room is also equipped with a computer station that gives caregivers access to patient records right there in the room, so nurses aren't running back and forth between the nurse's station and the room to find medical information.

Emory isn't the only hospital that has decided to forego the traditional, long-corridor hospital design, says Robin Diane Orr, president of the Robin Orr Group, a consulting firm based in Santa Barbara, CA. "We're seeing a lot of new design features that go beyond convenience to consider issues of safety and quality care," she says.

It's rare to find a new hospital wing that has a long corridor with a nurse's station at the end of the hall, Orr says. Today's organizations are building units where the nurse's station is in easy reach of every patient room—meaning that nurses are able to check in on patients more often and spot a change in condition or an early sign of infection more rapidly.

And we can't forget employee satisfaction. Since Emory opened its new ICU, nurses report feeling more fulfilled with their work, which in turn means they provide better care for patients, says Owen Samuels, MD, director of neuroscience critical care at Emory.

"You've heard the saying, 'A happy wife is a happy life?' Well, a satisfied nurse makes for a happy patient and family," he says.


Maureen Larkin is quality editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at mlarkin@healthleadersmedia.com.
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