Aheadline on the Op/Ed page of the July 19, 2007 edition of The Wall Street Journal reads, “Where Are the Innovators in Health Care?” The writer refers to brilliant, effective innovators in other sectors of our economy who have forced sluggish U.S. industries to become more productive. Author Regina E. Herzlinger's solution is a consumer-driven healthcare. She suggests “we take back our $2.2 trillion from entrepreneur-suppressing status quo and allow consumers to reward those entrepreneurs who lower costs by improving healthcare.”

I have long believed that those of us in the business of designing evidence-based healthcare facilities hold a golden key for innovation. When I observe how our trust-based approach to making decisions about the design of our facilities is only supported by the last best idea, which takes five to nine years on average to reveal itself, then the courage to dare to be different disappears. In my experience, our evidence-based approach is allowing new concepts to be shared and tested in multiple locations simultaneously.

Take the concept of the single-bedded room. How long did it take to get over the argument that it was just too costly to design an individual room per patient? That thinking suppressed our ability to partner with our health practi-tioners who are desperately trying to reduce the spread of infection, medical errors, and falls, improve communication, and basically provide a more patient-centered approach to care. Once the data were compiled, single-bedded rooms became a no-brainer.

With that critical decision under our belts, we forged forward, in relatively little time, to the concept of the like-handed room. There are currently a handful of trailblazers (the entrepreneurs) who are willing to take the risk, measure early, and share honestly (The Pebble Project promise) the benefits and risks associated with like-handed room design. As these projects come online and begin to reveal this much discussed new patient-room concept, we will move quickly to the next level of design innovation for improved patient care. We will do so because we are armed with important data that will intelligently dismiss those who fear failure or added costs.

I sat in a meeting recently that illuminates this point. A rather radical project I have been working on, Dublin Methodist Hospital in Dublin, Ohio, is about to open, and the researchers who have been guiding our evidence-based design team convened to set a strategy for the beginning of the data collection phase of our Pebble Project. This particular session was about building the business case for a better building. Design features' costs will be collected and recorded to quantify the degree of financial effectiveness they have on health, organizational, or cultural outcomes.

To Ms. Herzlinger's point, this study will show how design lowers cost to improve healthcare. I could tell the team was excited because there is relatively little data on these new design concepts. By collecting this data and sharing our learned lessons, a new generation of healthcare design projects will launch from a higher plateau. This is how innovation will progress in our sector of healthcare for a consumer who expects “new and improved” stamped on every product and service purchased.

I hope by now, many of you have caught the fever to design differently by using an evidence-based approach. If you have not gotten to the data collection phase of your project, you are missing out on the suspense of learning whether your design intervention improved an outcome and/or supports a loftier goal such as improving an industry by making it more productive and safer. It is in this evidence-based approach to our work that the rest of the healthcare industry can learn that “innovators” are not so hard to find.

Learn to use the tools available at The Center for Health Design to stay abreast of new research projects in the area of healthcare design. Best wishes for your project's evidence-based stake in moving an industry forward. Continue to innovate! HD

Rosalyn Cama, FASID, is Board Chair, The Center for Health Design, and President of CAMA, Inc., in New Haven, Connecticut. The Center for Health Design is located in Concord, California.