At an early morning plenary session at the recent ASHE PDC conference in Tampa, Florida, “To Build or Not To Build” panelist Brad Pollitt, vice president of facilities development at Shands HealthCare in Gainesville, Florida, boldly predicted that in the face of healthcare reform and an ongoing financial crunch, the semiprivate patient room will make a comeback. Pollitt foresees a model wherein “standard” healthcare includes semiprivate rooms, while “upgraded” single-patient rooms could cost a premium of, say, $1,000. And while none of the other panelists necessarily backed him up, they didn't exactly jump to argue with him either.

So, for the sake of discussion, let's just say he's right, and because of the financial realities coming down the pike, such a model comes into vogue. What then? The evidence that single-patient rooms are the new standard has long since been established-would healthcare systems be so quick to simply ignore the knowledge of the benefits of single-patient rooms to increase or simply maintain their profit margins to the detriment of all but the wealthiest patients? Would such practice fly with the public? What about health advocacy groups? What about those on board with the Wellness movement, or Evidence-Based Design? Would the government ever actually step in and mandate single-patient rooms?

Not so long ago, airlines gave you free meals on flights, transported your bags for free, and gave you a blanket and pillow simply for asking. Now, those services are generally only available for those willing to pay for them. The public wasn't happy, but what could they do? Stop flying? That's not really an option for most folks; it is even less of an option to not go the hospital when necessary.

While Pollitt's prediction is based on nothing if not precedent and knowledge of the financial climate of the healthcare community these days, I can still say that I hope he is dead wrong about this one. It would be a true shame to see our nation's healthcare systems take a giant step backwards just to pad their own pockets at the cost of the health and wellness of patients. HCD

Healthcare Design 2011 April;11(4):6