How Healthcare Facility Design Can Improve Nurse Productivity

Among all the stakeholders who stand to benefit the most from thoughtful design of healthcare spaces, nurses are right near the top, arguably only behind patients. And with nurse turnover at an alarmingly high rate—Healthcare Finance News reported the number at 27.1% in January—the healthcare industry is paying close attention to ways to stem that tide.

For National Nurses Week (May 6-12), Healthcare Design reached out to the Nursing Institute for Healthcare Design (NIHD) to discuss some of the pain points affecting nurse efficiency, comfort, and satisfaction in the workplace.

Here, NIHD member Sara Francis, a registered nurse and director of planning, design, and construction for Atrium Health in Charlotte, N.C., identifies three such issues and how good facility design can improve nurse productivity.

Nursing pain point #1: Workflow inefficiency

Nurses do a lot of walking, and facility design plays a big role in just how much. One way healthcare designers can reduce travel distances is by making sure items most frequently used—medication, equipment, and medical supplies deployed in patient rooms—are situated as close as possible to their point of use. Says Francis, this helps “eliminate the hunting and gathering aspect for staff.”

Standardization of patient rooms also contributes to better efficiency for busy nurses. Francis cites “same-handed” rooms (those in which the bed, bathroom, caregiver space, technology, etc., are in the same layout from room to room) as beneficial.

The use of universal design and having rooms that are adaptable depending on the level of a patient’s acuity are also nurse-friendly design choices.

Nursing pain point #2: Low-performance workspaces

“Support caregiver performance and well-being by increasing daylight, visibility, and collaboration with others,” Francis says. Well-designed on-stage (e.g., nurses’ stations) and off-stage (break rooms) spaces will help nurses create connections with other caregivers, patients, and families.

The off-stage spaces play an important role in supporting nurses and should be treated thoughtfully. “Ensure break rooms have varied seating: high tops, low tops, recliners, plus access to exterior views,” Francis says. “And a separate bathroom from the break room when possible.”

To take caregiver support even further, accessible respite rooms can help stressed-out nurses decompress, rest, and recuperate from difficult situations. Additional options that support holistic health and wellness include outdoor walking paths and comfortable dining areas for staff.

Nursing pain point #3: Safety and security

“With an increase in workplace violence, safety and security are always a top design priority for our teams,” Francis says, stressing the importance of “visibility to patients, family members, visitors, and, most importantly, other staff members should you need assistance.” She adds that open core design has helped tremendously with this.

Technology can also be implemented (and designed for) to enhance safety, Francis says, such as RFID for staff tracking and duress alerts; ability to lock down units; and virtual patient monitoring to minimize the use of 1:1 sitters in patient rooms.

And whatever safety measures are put in place, Francis says, the unit staff must receive “intentional education” to understand those security aspects and exit strategies.

For more on design to support nurses, see the following articles:

How Design Influences Healthcare Staff Burnout

Listen Up: Controlling Noise in Healthcare Spaces

At Bat: Nurses Step up to Design Plate


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