Of course, functionality is still as vital a concern as ever, as the current flu epidemic illustrates. Just as healthcare providers diligently immunize patients and constantly evaluate the cleanliness of their facilities, the design of products used in healthcare must also adapt to our ever-changing and ever-germy world. Recent studies have found that at any given time in a healthcare facility, 1 in 20 patients will contract a hospital-acquired infection (HAI).
What does this mean for the interior designer? Our social awareness and education play significant roles in healthcare design for short- and long-term projects. We can create environments that promote comfort and healing, but we can also help prevent falls, medical errors and HAIs; therefore, it is important for us to select appropriate products and materials for health-giving interior spaces. A designer’s tool in the healthcare field is his or her knowledge of current products and the emerging technologies within the industry—but like any tool, it needs to be properly maintained to be effective.
READ: I&S looks inside the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia.
A case in point: Toward the end of 2012, several design publications began reporting on a new class of antimicrobial copper surfaces. These surfaces are the only such class of materials registered with the Environmental Protection Agency to continuously kill more than 99.9 percent of certain disease-causing bacteria within two hours. Since that discovery, manufacturers have introduced a variety of building products, including railings, door hardware and fixtures, all made with antimicrobial copper. Designers and interior architects have the ability to specify these materials, and with the proper knowledge, can play a leading role in making hospitals and other healthcare spaces safer for patients.
Each year, healthcare design tradeshows and competitions enjoy increased attention from design and facilities professionals, as well as healthcare providers. More opportunities are appearing on the scene every year, it seems, inviting designers to increase their knowledge and step into a role of thought leadership in the field of healthcare design and construction.