This just in: Hospital elevator buttons carry more bacteria than toilet surfaces. Gross, yes. But it’s not really that surprising, is it? Like doorknobs, shared toys/books in waiting rooms, faucet handles, etc., it’s just another well-used surface that we all need to be aware of so we can protect ourselves accordingly.

This latest research (published in Open Medicine) offers the same sound advice we hear regularly: Wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, and (on the building design side) maybe install larger elevator buttons so people can press them with their elbows. What this finding reminded me of, though, was how difficult it still is in many buildings to opt to skip the elevator altogether.

In the healthcare arena, encouraging people to walk more, to move and stay active, is the name of the game for new wellness-driven care models.  Clearly marked, easily accessible, and safe-feeling stairwells can be such a simple step (up) in the right direction. Bonus: It’s a pretty low-cost PR opportunity to promote your system’s broader wellness sensibilities.

Senior Editor Anne DiNardo wrote about this topic about nine months ago, in a blog titled “Stepping Up Design Efforts for Patients, Staff Alike.” She shared how Kaiser Permanente’s new Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro, Ore., took particular effort to encourage stair use: windows in stairwells with views to nature; floor-to-ceiling graphics of outdoor activities at the landings; and nicely painted walls and finished floors. “Things like that say, ‘It’s OK to use these,” says Matthew Miller, project director for Kaiser Permanente.

Interestingly, I was in Oregon myself recently and toured the just-now-opening OHSU/OUS Collaborative Life Sciences Building—in which our tour guide also made a point of showing off stairwells with cheerful paint and walls of windows. They practically beckon you away from the elevators.

But these examples aside, most stairwells I’ve encountered in all kinds of buildings are areas you wouldn’t want to use unless the place was on fire. Are there healthcare examples I’m missing (outside of Oregon)? I’d love to see others, or hear about some in progress. What are the challenges to building better stairwells and encouraging their use, and how can these challenges be overcome? Let's see if this could be a trend that has legs.