As a healthcare interior designer working with an integrated team of architects and medical planners, I often begin a patient unit project by meeting with clients, caregivers, and user groups to map existing operational processes and identify opportunities for improvements. The goal is to streamline caregiver workflow, resulting in increased bedside care and improved patient outcomes.

But how do we know our design solutions accomplish improved care and delivery?

With my colleague Kara Freihoefer, a PhD design researcher, I posed this question during a presentation at the 2013 Healthcare Design Conference. We were presenting data from a post-occupancy evaluation (POE) of nurses’ workflow processes on three recently completed inpatient units.

The purpose of our POE was to understand the influence design has on nurses’ workflow processes. Our research involved randomly shadowing dayshift nurses in 30-minute segments while maintaining a log that tracked their location, time exited and entered, activities performed (face-to-face interaction, phone calls, retrieval of medication and supplies) and path traveled.

We logged 140 shadows and more than 70 hours of shadowing among the units. The shadows occurred on various weekdays throughout the year to represent a variety of nurse and patient types.

In planning our POE, we developed a reliable methodology to capture nurses’ workflow processes, and we noted the differences among inpatient unit configurations and implications on work processes. Our findings indicated that nurses spent a majority of their day inside patient rooms, partly attributed to the decentralized care model and proximity of medication/supplies storage to patient rooms in all three units.

Over the next several blogs, I’ll look at different aspects of the research process to show how empirical data can be used to inform design decisions. With healthcare owners and designers collaborating on POEs, the pay-offs can contribute to better care delivery and patient outcomes. Stay tuned.