The patient room is one of the most important areas of any hospital, so it rightfully deserves plenty of design attention. After all, it’s the patient room that embraces patients in their weakest moments and, if designed correctly, can aid them in a speedy and relaxed recovery.

There is a current design emphasis on specialization for patient rooms, where the environment of care is being tailored to specific conditions or acuity levels. I recently worked with a client that had seven different inpatient room types and each room was specially tailored to a unique patient population.

Care environments that are designed with only one goal in mind and for extremely specific purposes are at risk of being obsolete almost as soon as they’re built and difficult or costly to convert to another purpose once that’s realized.

We all know that healthcare environments are ever-changing landscapes, because of the advancements in medicine, developments in technology, new care approaches, updated codes, or reimbursement policies, and it would be short-sighted not to weigh future flexibility and adaptability of the care environment into the design decision-making process.

It’s important for facility leaders to adopt an approach that bucks trends towards specialization and customization. Designers and administrators should aspire to create healing environments that instead are standardized between specialties, yet flexible enough to accommodate many models of care.

To that end, the needs of the caregiver must be balanced with the needs of the patient. Knowing that delivering care can be a very physical process, designers should strive to create a patient room where the physician and nurses can make habitual movements through repetition, allowing them to amp up their response to an individual patient’s needs without risk of making errors in care tasks.

We know through research that the more standardized we make each patient environment, the more rapidly care providers can respond to stressful situations and patient needs, and improve the speed and accuracy of delivery. The design enables the caregivers to do their jobs more effectively, which leads to an increase in patient satisfaction.

Flexibility can also be achieved through standardization. This approach is known as the “universal” or “acuity-adaptable” room and allows facilities to swing beds between specialties based on patient demographics.

Administrators should always be willing to push for a program of baseline standardization in the patient environment to ensure it can support many models of care. We must place an emphasis on serving both the patient and the staff needs simultaneously with these initiatives, while building in infrastructure flexibility, and be prepared to watch the positive feedback roll in.


Jim Atkinson, AIA, EDAC, LEED AP, is vice president and director of healthcare design and planning for HDR Architecture. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @jimatkinsonhdr.