The movement toward same-handed patient room design has gained momentum over the past several years. Yet the question remains: Do same-handed patient rooms improve safety and decrease potential error?

HGA colleague and medical planner Dave Willer compares the concept of same-handed patient rooms to the design of an airplane cockpit, in which the configuration and instrument panels are consistent from plane to plane to avoid error or confusion. Because each patient room configuration is identical, navigation becomes instinctive for caregivers. “In a same-handed room, you don’t have to think about placement of supplies and technology because everything is consistent,” Dave says.

Yet research is inconclusive on whether same-handed rooms, in fact, improve safety.

For Butler Health System in Butler, Pennsylvania, HGA studied same-handed vs. mirror-reverse rooms for the Acute Care Bed Tower Expansion. HGA studied two full-scale patient rooms, right down to the smallest detail, and brought staff in to test the functionality. The staff, however, didn’t see any benefits to the same-handed layout, while operations questioned the added cost of same-handed rooms.

“Same-handed rooms can cause added expense because plumbing must be designed separately for each room instead of for two back-to-back rooms,” Dave continues. “In a large hospital, this can be more expensive. In addition, some studies have indicated that same-handed rooms can actually increase walking distance for nurses.”

While Butler decided to stay with a traditional mirror-reverse design, other hospitals we have designed recently have adopted the same-handed room layout.

Some designers and hospital administrators suggest that same-handed rooms are most valuable in life-and-death situations, such as in an emergency room or intensive care room.

“Same-handed rooms make the most sense in an ICU or other critical units, which are technology driven,” Dave concludes. “And then the importance steps down from there.”