Decoding Design

Preventive design in UK emergency rooms

Posting in Architecture

Can better design keep hospital staff safe and waiting patients calm?

Anyone who has been to an emergency room can understand the frustrations of waiting in discomfort and waiting for information. In the UK, those frustrations have resulted in an alarming number of violent attacks against A&E (Accident and Emergency) staff. In an article for BBC News, Jane Dreaper chronicles a project commissioned by the country's Department of Health to make A&E departments calmer for patients and safer for staff.

A design council, made of psychologists and architects, analyzed what causes normally calm people to lose their tempers in casualty units and what improvements could be made to ease those tensions. The council found that confusing information and not enough communication aggravated the already irritated patients.

The council suggested improvements to aspects of the waiting experience and the physical environment. Proposed improvements to service include changes to the triage process (how and when patients are greeted at arrival and how their questions are answered) and providing live updates via screens. Along with design recommendations for lighting, decor, and seating, solutions for physical improvements include better wayfinding systems and signage that explains the different stages of accident and emergency treatment.

David Kester, the head of the design council, commented to Dreaper:

This is design at its best - solving a long-standing, high-cost problem through creativity, simplicity and collaboration. For not much more than 60,000 pounds, hospitals can now quickly and easily install this system which could significantly reduce the burden of aggression from patients.

Between 2010 and 2011, physical assaults on England's National Health Service workers numbered over 55,000, which is an increase from the previous year. Attacks on hospital staff are not only dangerous but also eat up time and money, almost 69 million pounds a year in the UK from loss of work and legal costs.

Using practical and easily applied design strategies, hospitals can effectively improve the emergency waiting environment.

Designers try to stop patients abusing casualty staff [BBC News]
Image: cdsessums flickr

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure