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Five Ways To Improve The Healing Environment Of Hospitals

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 10:36am
Suneel Dhand, M.D.

The very basic definition of a hospital is a place of healing and recovery. Healthcare is in a tumultuous state of flux at the moment, with the universal drive for quality improvement and the need to reign in costs. These issues, along with the desire to enhance our patients’ satisfaction and overall healthcare experience, were barely even talked about a decade ago. Now, they are all the buzz around every hospital administration table across the country. The problem that we have however is that the whole topic of making hospitals better places to be has become a bit of a bumper sticker — with lots of convoluted and complex ideas being put forward, that often border on being nothing more than expensive gimmicks.

At the same time, most hospitals are missing a lot of the common sense measures that really make hospitals places where people can actually comfortably get better. In terms of going back to these fundamental basics, here are five of the most straightforward ways to achieve this:

1. Make hospitals as quiet as possible. This should go without saying, but is so commonly overlooked. If patients cannot get a decent rest, especially at night, how can they possibly feel better? It’s often the first complaint I hear in the morning when I enter a patients’ room — either due to a noisy neighbor or activity outside the room. While it may be impossible to eliminate all nocturnal noise in a busy environment, we can do so much better. I call this the “rough and tumble” atmosphere in most hospitals.

2. Single-bed rooms. This also links to the noise problem, but is just as much an issue with hygiene and infection control. The trend over the last few decades is for fewer and fewer patients to be grouped together in rooms. Although the United States is ahead of the curve compared to most other countries, there’s little doubt that in the not too distant future, sharing a room with another patient will be viewed as just as unacceptable as finding out you are sharing a hotel room with a random stranger when you check-in.

3. Staffing ratios. We need to ensure that all frontline healthcare staff, especially doctors and nurses, have adequate time with patients and their families. The more rushed and frantic the atmosphere is, the less a hospital becomes a place of healing and instead more like a factory floor. So many of our problems in healthcare, whether they are to do with improving patient safety or enhancing patient satisfaction, would be solved with the right numbers of frontline clinical staff. Think it’s expensive to have more doctors and nurses? Imagine the cost benefits in terms of reduced medical errors and the organization gaining a better reputation with patients and their families.

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