By Joon Yun for Forbes
Hospital, heal thyself.
Almost everyone feels ill when thinking about the rising cost of healthcare in this country; it already stands at a gut-churning $2.7 trillion per year.
Similarly, most folks find hospitals uncomfortable, even frightening. Both high costs and low satisfaction share a root cause: Poorly designed medical infrastructure.
If Steve Jobs had been redesigning hospitals instead of computing devices, here are some things he might have done.
- Eliminate doorknobs in medical establishments. Germ theory and knob-less doors have both been around forever.
- Eliminate elevator buttons, cash transactions and other easily replaced vehicles for spreading germs in medical establishments.
- Pediatricians tell patients to avoid having their children share toys and books with sick kids. But what do many pediatricians provide in their waiting rooms?
- Ban bacon and doughnuts in hospital cafeterias. Unpopular, perhaps. But how can healthcare providers preach the value of healthy diets when their own cafeterias serve so much unhealthy food?
- Prevent sleep deprivation among physicians. Recent focus on medical interns has led to improvements, but healthcare providers still envy the sleep rules imposed on pilots.
- Hospital patients prefer private rooms. Hospital-borne infections prefer shared rooms.
- Noise, visual clutter and poor quality lighting are plentiful in U.S. hospitals. Each one has been demonstrated to harm patient outcomes.
- Pharmacies are a terrible bottleneck in hospitals. Centralized dispensing pharmacies increase drug delivery time by 50%. Do you want your hospital pharmacist to feel rushed?
- More talking, less walking. Nurses spend almost 1/3 of their time walking through rectangular, single corridor units to see patients. Radial units allow nurses to visually supervise patients and spend more time on patient care and communication.
- Disease doesn’t respect office hours. Yet hospital staffing is typical of the Monday-through-Friday, 9am-to-5pm American working culture. Studies show that patients who enter the hospital with stroke or heart disease at night or on weekends have higher mortality than midweek, 9am-5pm admissions. It’s hard to understand why such straightforward ways to improve patient mortality outcomes are overlooked.
Why does it seem so unlikely that any of these changes are coming very soon to a hospital near you? The system is fraught with misaligned incentives. Thus far, we have no design visionary for healthcare, wearing a black turtleneck and forging game-changing brilliance.
What, then, will actually drive change? Informed consumer demand. Tomorrow’s patients will expect hospitals to be reviewed just like any other consumer good, empowering decisions based on patient satisfaction. The health consequences of bad design are well understood by providers; soon, consumers will appreciate that connection, too. And when consumer demand leads to implementation of common sense measures that yield better outcomes, higher satisfaction, and lower costs, I’ll be the first to call it “Sanely Great”.