We see it all the time: news stories covering the death of a patient because of medical error. Or sometimes it's a website dedicated to letting people express their anguish and frustrations regarding such accidents happening. Often, poor quality of healthcare is to blame.

However, drilling down into some of the other causes of patient deaths and injuries can be rather sobering, because in a lot of cases, a well-designed physical environment could have possibly helped to avoid these adverse events.

For several years, Patient Safety Organizations (PSOs) like ECRI Institute have been collecting and analyzing information from hospitals that voluntarily file reports. The organizations have been developing recommendations and guidance on how to improve patient safety in healthcare settings. ECRI Institute  PSO recently released a free report that identifies the events that are still most frequently reported by hospitals, including:

·         Falls

·         Medication errors

·         Hospital-acquired infections.

Designing for Patient Safety” written by Anjali Joseph, PhD, EDAC, Ellen Taylor, and Xiaobo Quan, PhD, (Healthcare Design, January 2012) as well as many other pieces of literature show that the design of a healthcare facility significantly impacts patient and caregiver safety, and a considerable amount of work needs to be done during the pre-design phase of a healthcare building project to ensure that safety concerns are addressed.

According to the report from ECRI Institute, analysis of the more than 100,000 reported events since 2009 were known long before the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-41). This legislation was signed into law to promote confidential and voluntary reporting of events or actions that affect patients.

The awareness of design’s impact on these dangerous occurrences has also been studied and has spurred a wealth of research, including the development of the Patient Safety Risk Assessment in the 2014 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities from the Facility Guidelines Institute.

It turns out however that, according to the April 2011 issue of Health Affairs, the number of medical mistakes is possibly 10 times higher than what is actually reported. The design industry is in a unique position to help patients, and change these disquieting events.