Simple design changes to hospital emergency departments could prevent medical mistakes and make vulnerable front line staff more secure suggests new Australian research.

International design practice HASSELL will premiere the new study “Emergency Talks”, at the European Healthcare Design 2017 June 11-14.

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. This in a context where international studies have found up to 80 percent of medical errors are due to miscommunication.

HASSELL Principal Kieren Morgan, a UK-based healthcare design expert, explains that whilst these issues are well recognised within public Emergency Departments, HASSELL has 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 individual employee needs,” says Morgan. “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.”

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, says that much healthcare design research, including work from The Design Council and the NHS, is patient focussed

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

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 and others.

“Emergency Talks” will be entered for both the RIBA President’s Research Awards and the European Healthcare Design Award.

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