PLAINSBORO, N.J. — Can good design help heal the sick?
The University Medical Center of Princeton realized several years ago that it had outgrown its old home and needed a new one. So the management decided to design a mock patient room.
Medical staff members and patients were surveyed. Nurses and doctors spent months moving Post-it notes around a model room set up in the old hospital. It was for just one patient, with a big foldout sofa for guests, a view outdoors, a novel drug dispensary and a bathroom positioned just so.
Equipment was installed, possible situations rehearsed. Then real patients were moved in from the surgical unit — hip and knee replacements, mostly — to compare old and new rooms. After months of testing, patients in the model room rated food and nursing care higher than patients in the old rooms did, although the meals and care were the same.
But the real eye-opener was this: Patients also asked for 30 percent less pain medication.
Reduced pain has a cascade effect, hastening recovery and rehabilitation, leading to shorter stays and diminishing not just costs but also the chances for accidents and infections. When the new $523 million, 636,000-square-foot hospital, on a leafy campus, opened here in 2012, the model room became real.
So far, ratings of patient satisfaction are in the 99th percentile, up from the 61st percentile before the move. Infection rates and the number of accidents have never been lower.
Often ignored by front-rank architects, left to corporate specialists who churn out too many heartless buildings, hospitals are a critical frontier for design.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.