Uncovering the Evidence

by Robert Nieminen

Have you ever stopped to wonder what certain industry terms that get thrown around—like evidence-based design (EBD)—really mean? If you’re reading this, I presume you have some level of familiarity with the term, and if your firm serves the healthcare market, then you’ve undoubtedly read up on the topic or even applied some of the strategies associated with this trend.

Although the concept itself isn’t new, the Center for Health Design didn’t arrive at a formal definition until just four years ago, stating that EBD “is the process of basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes,” as it relates to the design of healthcare environments.

While interviewing Jean Mah, planning principal at Perkins+Will, for this month’s photo essay on the new Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, I asked her to clarify what she meant by EBD. Her response points to an important distinction that ought to be highlighted within the definition I just provided: “credible research.”

“People say EBD, right? The research is really the critical part. Many people don’t really differentiate between anecdotal information or case studies from projects compared to academic, peer-reviewed research,” she says, adding that it can be misleading when designers talk about “research” versus academics. While she admits her team occasionally applies strategies from anecdotal case studies when they feel they will yield positive results, she maintains that they rely heavily on peer-reviewed research and published studies, such as those found on the University of Minnesota’s InformeDesign website (www.informedesign.org).

For the Johns Hopkins project, Mah says the design team focused specifically on lighting and acoustics, two areas where EBD strategies can have a measurable impact on patient outcomes. “From a reduction of medical errors and improved accuracy, patient safety and staff safety [standpoint], we have very carefully designed the lighting levels … in order to improve visibility and accuracy,” says Mah.

According to Carolyn BaRoss, IIDA, ASID, LEED AP, design principal at Perkins+Will, quality patient care also includes acoustical sensitivity, so the design team applied “a lot of strategies within the interior environment to help mitigate sound transmission [to] create as quiet an environment as possible.” Credible research has demonstrated that better acoustics result in better clinical outcomes.

Unfortunately, current approaches to sustainable design and construction don’t always meet occupants’ indoor environmental quality (IEQ) needs for “acoustic comfort,” and according to ongoing research at the Center for the Built Environment (CBE), it is the lowest performing IEQ factor in green buildings, as Kenneth P. Roy, PhD, FASA reports in this month’s EnvironDesign Notebook. “However, there is no need to sacrifice good acoustics when selecting products for green buildings,” he writes. “Architects and interior designers do not have to choose between sustainability, design and acoustic needs—they can have all three.” Find out how to strike the right balance among these requirements in this informative article.

EBD objectives don’t stop at the single-patient room or at the windows that allow for views to the outdoors, or even at the strategically-placed hand washing stations throughout a medical facility—they extend right down to the selection of textiles and flooring, as you will discover by reading this issue’s Trends and Focus articles. While antimicrobial materials themselves aren’t all that new, the processes and techniques to create them are, and designers no longer have to sacrifice aesthetics for safety on the floor or the furnishings.

Lastly, for those of you who missed last month’s webinar, “Trends in Healthcare Design,” presented by Janette Murray, senior design manager at Johnsonite, I have good news: the presentation is now available for viewing on-demand at no cost on our website.

Go to www.interiorsandsources.com and select “Webinars” under the Resources tab in the main navigation bar. Happy viewing!