Design a hospital to fight infection head on

Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are the cause of significant medical and economic expense on clinics, hospitals and facilities everywhere. HAIs are usually caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses or other infectious agents that live in medical settings.

Researcher Jack Gilbert spent 16 months studying microbes in a hospital environment. Gilbert, an environmental microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory, and his team of swab-armed graduate students, postdocs and research assistants swabbed patient rooms, nursing stations and even the cleanest areas of the University of Chicago’s new hospital pavilion. The data they collected told an intriguing story.

Gilbert’s research suggests that within hours of a new patient’s admittance, the microbes in their environment morph and reflect the composition of the latest inhabitant, altering the microbial profile of the hospital1.

“Within hours, the new person’s microbiome became the dominant force in that room,” he says.

One of the many reasons for this is that hospitals have traditionally been built for structural endurance rather than to promote every aspect of a patient’s health. Healthcare professionals are often only focused on curing the illness the patient immediately presents them with1.

Only now we’re beginning to realize the impact microbes can have on the entire facility. However, there is hope.

Hospital design changes, both big and small, can lead to better, safer hospitals that promote cleaner, healthier environments for patients who may be fighting infection or trying to keep it at bay.

Here are some changes you can make at your hospital immediately, and in the longer term.

Small Changes

  • Open more windows (if possible) and find ways to incorporate more outside air into your ventilation system2.
  • Disinfect showerheads where moisture-loving bacteria thrive2.
  • Encourage simple behavioral changes to foster healthier hospital environments. For instance, make sure your staff is consistently educated on proper hand-washing processes and post hand hygiene posters in noticeable areas that serve as a constant reminder3.

Big Changes

  • Replace windows with ones that can open and encourage patients and nurses to open them when weather permits2.
  • Put pressurized mats in front of hand-washing areas in operating rooms and intensive care units that sound a reminder if the hand-washer has spent too little time at the sink4.
  • Eradicate germs with modern technology. From biosensors that detect antibody resistance to robots that use ultra-violet light to sterilize and kill germs, technological advances can help keep your spaces cleaner3.

1. U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (2014), Rethinking Sterile: The Hospital Microbiome by Carrie Arnold. Retrieved from:
2. Wall Street Journal (2015), Designing a Hospital to Better Fight Infection by Robert Lee Hotz. Retrieved from:
3. (2013), 3 ways to fight hospital infections by Alicia Caramenico. Retrieved from:
4. South Western Communications (2015), How To Fight Hospital Acquired-Infections. Retrieved from: