In this series, Healthcare Design asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what’s got their attention and share some ideas on the subject.

Dan Morris is founder and managing partner of MorrisSwitzer Environments for Health, which recently merged with Ascension Group Architects and DaSilva Architects to form E4H. Here, Morris shares his thoughts on ED design, the monetary benefits of private patient rooms, and future advancements for materials in healthcare facilities.

1. Privacy, please  

We all know that private patient rooms have a host of benefits, including reduced incidents of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), patient falls, and patient transfer and medical errors, and each one of these is a potential cost-savings driver. But what about the potential business case that can be made for private rooms not only saving money but actually paying for themselves? Through our firm research, we’ve found that does in fact appear to be true and that the cost savings achieved by converting to private rooms can actually cover the debt service on renovation costs. The question hospitals may have to consider is not whether they can afford to do it but rather can they afford not to.

2. It’s on the surface

We’re on the cusp of a material and technological shift that may largely do away with contaminated surfaces that harbor and transmit bacteria that can lead to HAIs. On the material side, there are biomorphic-inspired surfaces that make it hard for bacteria to attach to a surface. Copper used for high-touch surfaces and copper-infused materials also have excellent bacteria-fighting characteristics. Technological breakthroughs are also on the way in the form of light fixtures that can continuously kill bacteria on surfaces and in the air. It’s an exciting time to be a healthcare design professional, knowing the impact our work will have in making hospitals a truly healing environment.  

3. Patient satisfaction shaping ED design

The last place anyone wants to spend time in is the ED waiting room. After all, the reason you’re there is because you thought you had an emergency and waiting for service greatly affects your perceived satisfaction of the medical encounter. Many hospitals are actively expanding their EDs in an effort to accommodate higher throughput, but that extra space needs to be well thought-out to support timely, patient-center care. Separate entrances for walk-ins and ambulance arrival to facilitate triage, testing, and treatment, layouts that adjust to changes in patient volume over a 24-hour cycle, and rapid triage and treatment areas for low-acuity patients are just some of the ideas being implemented.

4. Building a better medical home

What constitutes the perfect setting for the medical home model? There probably isn’t a pat answer, but for us it’s about giving as much attention to designing spaces for collaboration as we do for patient interaction. It’s also about flexibility and making sure that adjacent clinics aren’t so specialized that they can share spaces easily with each other throughout the day. Finally, it’s about designing those aspects into an environment that’s welcoming, soothing, and nonthreatening for the patient so that they can feel comfortable, such as organic colors and textures, comfortable furniture, and natural light.

5. Energy efficiency as a design driver

Hospitals are among the biggest energy consumers in the U.S. According to a report for the U.S. Energy Information Administration large hospitals account for less than 2 percent of all commercial floor space but consume 5.5 percent of the energy used by the commercial sector. Well-designed healthcare facilities can support new care models, energize staff, provide flexibility, and promote health while also being environmentally and operationally sustainable. According to recent reports nearly 2,200 healthcare construction projects have received LEED certification or are seeking it. Healthcare design can help lead the way in reducing energy consumption.

Dan Morris is founder and managing partner of MorrisSwitzer Environments for Health, which recently merged with Ascension Group Architects and DaSilva Architects to form E4H. He can be reached at


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