Improving staff communication through emergency room design

HASSELL research reveals that design interventions could prevent medical mistakes and keep vulnerable frontline staff safe

One of the recommendations in the HASSELL research is the provision of glazed nooks for paperwork and quick chats

Simple design changes to hospital emergency departments could prevent medical mistakes and keep vulnerable frontline staff safe, suggests new research.

International design practice, HASSELL, launched the results of its latest study - Emergency Talks, at last week’s European Healthcare Design Congress.

Working with The University of Melbourne; HASSELL found that in pressured emergency departments healthcare staff lacked opportunities to check critical patient information with colleagues and support each other emotionally in stressful situations.

Our ideas are very much driven by how we can support nurses and doctors and give them the spaces they need to pass across vital information and improve their morale to avoid stress and staff burnout

This comes after international studies have found that up to 80% of medical errors are due to miscommunication.

HASSELL principal, Kieren Morgan, a UK-based healthcare design expert, said that, while these issues are well recognised within public emergency departments; HASSELL had taken a unique healthcare staff-centred approach to addressing them, including suggesting cutting-edge commercial workplace design solutions applicable to healthcare environments.

“The private sector has invested hugely into developing workplace environments that balance the need for increased business efficiency with the needs of individual employees”, he added.

“Yet, in public healthcare, we haven’t been doing that.

“This research recognises that, for staff, emergency departments are workplaces. We’ve drawn from the best practice developed in other settings.”

Standing desks would enable staff to capture information on the go

Presently, the lack of suitable space in hospitals means staff use corridors, store cupboards, and patient screening curtains to get a moment to touch base, leading to poor communication, lapses in patient confidentiality, or staff feeling over exposed to aggressive members of the public.

HASSELL researcher, Michaela Sheahan, said that much healthcare design research, including work from The Design Council and the NHS, is patient focused.

“Hospitals everywhere are grappling with how to improve outcomes for patients and staff all the time,” she added.

“But, mostly, they look at patient experience as the driver for change.

The staff’s needs are sometimes overshadowed and our research shows staff are very concerned with safety in particular.

“It’s an underlying stress they feel continually and this affects the overall work environment significantly.

“Our ideas are very much driven by how we can support nurses and doctors and give them the spaces they need to pass across vital information and improve their morale to avoid stress and staff burnout.”

The research was conducted in public hospitals in Melbourne and included international literature reviews, staff surveys and focus groups, as well as drawing on previous studies by the Design Council UK and Centre for Workplace Intelligence, among others.

Among its findings and recommendations; the research suggested the following potential design solutions.

  • Glazed nooks for paperwork and quick chats. “You need a balance between security and visual awareness...I like the idea of glass because then you’re separated from the patients”, said a focus group participant
  • Standing desks to capture information on the go. “A lot of communication is on the fly,” said a member of staff. “When you’re in the corridor, that’s your opportunity to talk to your buddy or a senior nurse going past.”
  • Meeting booths for short catchups. “Sometimes in the medication room you can have a bit of a chat. You can see and nobody can hear,” said another participant

Meeting booths allow for short catchups

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