Most people prefer a private room. Whether we’re talking about cruises, hotels, or even offices, the benefits of private rooms are obvious. In healthcare circles though, the case for private rooms in hospitals and long-term care facilities is still being made, and the field of evidence-based design offers solid support.

‘When was the last time you spent the night in a hotel with someone you don’t know?’

Healthcare as a whole is starting to realize the problem with shared rooms. Visits to hospitals and long-term care facilities come along with some of the most difficult and personal times in our lives, but there’s a good chance we’ll end up spending them with a complete stranger.

The reason for that comes down to history and one of Florence Nightingale’s less popular recommendations. She originally advocated for large patient wards as a matter of nurse efficiency in patient supervision. Today though, patients expect more and facilities that understand what the dynamic hospital of the future will look like are taking note. CEO of Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Jeanette Clough asks, “When was the last time you spent the night in a hotel with someone you don’t know?”

While some patients do prefer having a roommate in case of emergencies and to combat loneliness, the evidence-based design case for private rooms goes deeper than patient preferences.

The Evidence-Based Design Case for Hospital Private Rooms

Hospital-acquired infections cost facilities $9.8 billion in treatment each year but the effect on facility bottom lines can be even more immediate. Many payers follow Medicare’s lead and refuse to reimburse for hospital-acquired infections. This means that facilities have very real incentive to reduce the chance of passing infections between patients and it appears that private rooms are a strong first line of defense.

Studies have found that there is an increased risk of certain infections with every exposure to a new roommate in a hospital including:

  • An 11% increase in the risk of Clostridium difficile (C. diff).
  • A 10% increase in the risk of MRSA.
  • An 11% higher risk of vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus

In populations where immune systems might already be suppressed, these numbers are especially important to consider. Some facilities though, have seen much more dramatic results from implementing private rooms in their facility design.

Montreal General Hospital opened up a new, single-occupancy only ICU, and between 2000 and 2005 saw MRSA, C. Diff, and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci drop to 54% lower than a nearby, similar ICU that had a mix of private and shared rooms. They also saw a 51% drop in yeast infections and a 38 percent decrease of infections with Enterobacter and Klebsiella species.

A Physician’s Perspective

Private rooms aren’t just a luxury. They’re an important first step in hospital design that contributes to improved patient outcomes and doctors have begun to publicly support the idea.

Dr. Suneel Dhand, for example, sees benefits beyond the reduced risk of infection. He points out that one of the most common complaints he hears from his patients when making early morning visits is a lack of sleep because of a noisy neighbor. Hospital staff are also regularly receiving requests from patients who want to change rooms because of an undesirable roommate—something that’s a drain on the time and energy of charge nurses. These requests though, aren’t always about patient preferences. Patients with more intense clinical issues might need more frequent visits from staff, even during the night, leaving their roommate constantly interrupted and slowing down their own recovery.

Of course, there’s also the question of patient information and privacy. Anyone who’s shared a long-term care or hospital room knows they’ve had access to confidential information that was extremely personal and in any other situation, possibly illegal.  Shared rooms even expose sensitive information to other patients’ visiting family and friends. As Dr. Dhand notes, thousands of these conversations happen every day in a way that other professions (like finance or law) wouldn’t tolerate.

Private Rooms and the Patient Experience

Any facility looking to improve the patient experience will give serious consideration to an evidence-based design application of private rooms. Take the case of Lehigh Valley Hospital’s Family Care Pavilion in Bethlehem, PA. They had the initiative to deliver a truly patient-centered experience which led them to rethink their operational and staffing models, along with their approach to patient rooms. In June of 2017, after consulting with patient and family advocacy groups, they opened their all-private room facility to a positive reception by patients and their families. As a result, they’ve found that admissions have been higher even than the organization’s original goals.

Private rooms are one, powerful option for hospitals and long-term-care leadership dedicated to enhancing the patient experience. To learn more about evidence-based design and what it can mean for your facility, take some time with our Introduction to Evidence-Based Design in Healthcare Environments.