Architects and designers have transformed hospitals into welcoming environments designed to promote health and healing. But when it comes to great hospital design, it’s important to remember that it’s often the details that make all the difference. When it comes to patient health, choosing the right surfaces and finishes can play a critical role in controlling the spread of bacteria.
While it is important for Patient Zone Surfaces to be both visually appealing and sustainable, it is even more important that they can be cleaned easily and often. According to one study, over three-fourths of various surfaces tested in healthcare facilities have unacceptable levels of high bacteria, and of these surfaces only a fraction of that number look dirty. In other words, when choosing surfaces and finishes, it is important to consider not only the color and texture of the materials, but also the role these factors might play in Infection Control. For example, while carpet adds warmth to a space, it is not recommended for areas where immunocompromised patients might stay because it is very difficult to remove bacteria, blood and other infectious materials.
When evaluating or choosing surfaces for a hospital setting, one must also be wary of antimicrobial claims made by some companies who manufacture building materials and finishes for healthcare facilities. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), antimicrobials are used to “disinfect, sanitize, reduce or mitigate growth or development of microbiological organisms”. While choosing materials treated with antimicrobials might seem like a no-brainer, remember this: antimicrobial treatments are actually chemicals that are regulated by the EPA, just like pesticides. In fact, relying on antimicrobial-treated materials as a solution to infection control can cause more problems than it solves. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) no evidence has been found that suggest that antimicrobials have any real health benefits when used in hospital settings. Additionally, the EPA has raised concern that products labeled as antimicrobial can actually exacerbate infection control problems because many people assume that these products are self-sanitizing and do not need to be cleaned as often.
So if antimicrobial products aren’t the solution to Infection Control, what is? There is no one answer because every healthcare environment is different, but the first step in figuring out the best solutions for your healthcare facility is to initiate an Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA). An ICRA will identify the specific Infection Control risks your healthcare facility has on various patient populations and healthcare workers, and can help in planning for maintenance and renovation of a healthcare facility to make sure Infection Control risks are minimized from the start.