About one in 25 patients in America has at least one healthcare-associated infection (HAI) on any given day, according to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2011, more than 720,000 patients suffered from an HAI and about 75,000 of them died from it.
Types of HAIs include central line-associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections and ventilator-associated pneumonia. Surgical site infections can also occur.
How can we lower these numbers? In addition to hand washing reminders for doctors, nurses and visitors, encouraging and reminding staff to use gloves and proper protective clothing, and covering coughs and sneezes, it's also important to consider infection control when planning a medical facility's initial design. Facility management should consult not just a commercial interior designer but one who specifically specializes in healthcare interior design and knows which materials and furnishings to use to lower the risk of infection.
Below are three items to consider while designing medical facilities that will help fight the spread of infections:
Furniture should not impede the cleaning process. Many different people will sit on or touch the furniture countless times throughout the day, so it must be durable enough to withstand daily cleanings with harsh products, such as a bleach solution. Germs and dirt can collect in small crevices if rips, tears or cracks have formed due to daily cleanings.
Sofas with solid surface arm caps make them easier to disinfect, while tandem seating with less legs or a bar system is easier to clean underneath. At Saint Thomas West Hospital, for example, siting areas incorporated single and tandem seating from Spec Furniture that features polyurethane, easy-to-clean arms, along with taller, thinner legs that are simpler to clean around.
It's even more important to consider the material(s) that make up the chosen furnishings. Most HAIs spread through contact - an infected patient spreads the infection to a surface or doctor who then passes it on to the next patient. According to Healthcare Design Magazine, MRSA - a germ that is responsible for 63 percent of hospital-acquired staph infections - can survive for 11 days on a plastic patient chart and more than 12 days on a laminated countertop.
Therefore, surfaces should be made of materials that can withstand a bleach and/or chlorine solution. In addition, furnishings made with natural antimicrobial properties, such as silver or copper, cause germs to die more quickly.
Hospitals and clinics need to pay special attention to their choices for curtains, drapes and other upholstery, as fabrics can be more difficult to disinfect than hard surfaces. To be considered "bleach cleanable," fabrics must not fade or weaken when exposed to bleach solutions.
Fiber types such as acrylic, nylon and high-energy polyester are known for their ability to withstand these solutions while still maintaining their original colors. Many of these fibers are also naturally mildew resistant, helping to prevent the growth of mold, which can be problematic in hot and humid locations.
Additionally, fabrics can be treated with an antibacterial finish to help protect them against bacteria and other microbes. Finishes that contain a silver ion that cuts off a bacteria's ability to breathe tend to be the most effective.
Mayer Fabrics' Zen seating upholstery is one of our new favorite products that stood out at this year's Neocon, the commercial design industry's largest annual conference. The fabric is bleach cleanable, backed by 100 percent polyester and features a soil and stain resistant topcoat and abrasion and pilling resistance.
For something a little more daring and bright, KnollTextiles' Between the Lines collection was also a Neocon favorite. With bright color and stripe options and featuring bleach cleanable upholsteries that are made from vinyl and polyurethane, as well as non-phthalate vinyl wallcoverings, this collection serves a dual purpose of adding pizzazz to a room and keeping it easy to clean and disinfect - perfect for pediatric spaces.
In addition to fabrics, one element to not overlook is privacy curtains that must be as durable and cleanable as other items throughout the room. After all, with doctors, nurses and visitors pulling on the curtain multiple times throughout the day, it's bound to get germs on it. MRSA can survive on cloth curtains for up to nine days, and a survey conducted in 2008 by F. Trillis, EC Eckstein, R. Budavich, et al. found 42 percent of hospital privacy curtains were contaminated with Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus (VRE), an antimicrobial-resistant bacterium, and 22 percent with MRSA. Some of our favorite brands of privacy curtains include Momentum and Architex, to which we can add an Impact Technology treatment to help prevent the spread of infection.
With patients now researching a hospital's infection rates before scheduling surgeries, it is in a hospital's best interest for both its patients and bottom line to invest in smart interior design that reduces the risk of infection.
Rebecca Donner is the owner and founder of national healthcare interior design firm Inner Design Studio, based in Nashville. For more information, visit innerdesignstudio.com.