“We could make the hospital itself into a treatment for the patient.”

Now, there’s a design challenge. But it’s one that Emily Landon, infection control epidemiologist for the University of Chicago’s Center for Care and Discovery, hopes that providers, architects, and interior designers will take on in the near future, as she explained to The Wall Street Journal in April. Her facility is in the midst of a comprehensive research study called the Hospital Microbiome Project, collecting and testing thousands of microbe samples and manipulating patient room conditions in order to learn how the environment itself contributes to healthcare-associated infections.

Building materials, bathroom fixtures, ventilation systems, and furniture fabrics can all harbor and circulate bacteria between caregivers, patients, and visitors, with new bacteria and potential pathogens introduced with every person who enters a room. The researchers, according to the WSJ article, “hope eventually to make the hospital building itself a curative probiotic—perhaps by infusing walls or furnishings with bacteria that enhance patient health and recovery,” among other design-related infection-control measures.

Some providers have already been taking this call to arms very seriously, working to design spaces that go beyond standard practices to rein in and manage the spread of pathogens from the second someone walks in the hospital doors. At the Healthcare Design Academy in Houston (also in April), I learned about two such efforts. The first presentation described MD Anderson Cancer Center’s application of Lean thinking to infection prevention. Following Virginia Mason’s Flows of Medicine exercise, the presenters walked through each of the eight processes (flow of patients, flow of family, flow of staff, etc.) and discussed specific ways to implement infection control methods at each one. They then offered some takeaways from a case study in which this approach was used.

For the second project, the stakes were even higher: a new infectious disease isolation unit at Texas Children’s Hospital. The presenters for this session walked attendees through the meticulous thinking behind each step of the unit’s design and what they learned through touring other similar facilities around the country.

Both sessions were really interesting, and I invite you to keep an eye on this website for more on these projects in upcoming articles. There are three more regional Healthcare Design Academies you can attend in 2015; to read the session lineups and register, go to HCDmagazine/HCD-academy.