How thoughtful design and the right solution can make healthcare spaces safer
You’ve been to the hospital before. And you know the rule: don’t touch anything! It can seem strange when you first hear it. After all, doctors are meticulous about washing their hands and wearing clean scrubs. On the surface, medical facilities seem like a hygienic place. And it would be, if hospitals weren’t visited by so many sick people.
Germs have the potential to run rampant at hospitals. Healthcare workers are at the front line of a relentless battle against illness. It’s one of the most important jobs in our society, especially in today’s world of mass travel and global pandemics. Did you know that between five and 10% of hospitalized people get an infection during their stay?1 That’s why infection prevention and control (IP&C) is top of mind for healthcare professionals.
Let’s dig into IP&C and see how proper cleaning methods paired with good design can make healthcare facilities safer for both patients and medical professionals.
What is infection prevention and control, anyway?
Infection prevention and control sounds self-explanatory, doesn’t it? After all, it’s just keeping healthcare spaces clean, right? Well, yes. But while IP&C is a simple concept, implementing it is complicated.
IP&C actually begins before a hospital or clinic is even built. Right from the start, experts known as infection prevention professionals are called in. They’re tasked with ensuring the design of the space is going to take infection prevention into account. This is crucial because germs can live on most surfaces. Walls, machines, computers, beds and people. Almost anywhere you can think of, really. That means being methodical about planning a hospital or clinic. It has a serious impact on how germs survive once the space is in use.
Point of contact
Proper infection prevention and control also has a lot to do with limiting transmission between people and objects. It’s a two-way street. A patient touches a doorknob. Then a nurse touches the same surface. Now they’re sharing germs. This is why doctors wash their hands before treating patients. But the way a space is designed can also have a massive impact on transmission. Planning a space to have the bare minimum of touch points is important too.
That’s why DIRTT provides our clients with a suite of solutions that reduce physical contact. Our custom millwork can be designed with cutouts specifically designed to house medical supplies like gloves and masks and sharps containers. Passthrough millwork can be specified so that test samples can be passed on without human contact. And our drawers and cabinets can be specified with electronic, one-touch open and close mechanisms to limit contact with the physical space. We take IP&C seriously, and our solutions reflect that.
IP&C is also heavily influenced by cleaning and disinfecting healthcare spaces regularly. But the design of the space can make this much more efficient. That’s why hospital rooms are typically a bare-bones environment. You’ll rarely see hung art, detailed millwork or overly complicated design themes. This isn’t because hospitals don’t have the resources to do so. It’s because adding these types of features would make disinfecting a space an absolute nightmare.
So, think of IP&C as more of a holistic, long-term process instead of a simple one-time cleaning.
Solving the sanitization problem with DIRTT
Over the past 15 years, DIRTT has embraced that holistic approach required to meet even the most stringent of IP&C requirements. Our development team has worked closely with our healthcare team and industry experts to develop solutions that make cleaning easier while taking into account the principals that guide great healthcare design.
It all starts in the design phase. We collaborate early to ensure that our client’s needs are met once the project is installed. The fact that we use our proprietary design software – ICE – makes it a whole lot easier. Clients can walk through their space in virtual reality and ensure they’re going to get exactly what they need, well before we start building it off-site in our factories. But there’s more to it than that.
DIRTT has created solutions that minimize the ability for germs to hide. Firstly, the gaps between our wall panels are sealed with a plastic barrier. We call it an opti-filler and it ensures bacteria can’t get into the wall. Opti-filler makes a DIRTT wall as hygienic and easy to disinfect as any conventional wall, while providing the modularity to ease long-term maintenance. DIRTT also allows our clients to place monitors, televisions and clocks within the wall. With our patented integrated technology solutions, anything that is a pain to sanitize can be kept behind a easily cleanable surface. That’s a huge advantage when it comes to infection prevention.
Maintain that clean space
DIRTT also allows healthcare spaces to work to their full potential, even when maintenance is required. In a conventionally built space, making changes can be a hazard to patient safety. Dust, debris and generally unsanitary conditions mean that often an entire hospital wing needs to be closed to make even the most basic repairs. Because DIRTT is designed for disassembly (DfD), changes can be made in a fraction of the time without the associated disruption. With DIRTT, if a hospital needs to change out equipment or add an electrical outlet, they can do it quickly. And they may only have to close a single room. This keeps patients flowing through the healthcare system with no impact on IP&C in the rest of the building.
And don’t forget, having a difficult-to-clean space raises costs for healthcare providers. It causes increased labor hours. They have to procure more personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. It also leads to longer wait times. All of this puts a strain on their bottom line and the healthcare system as a whole.2 It’s important to factor in these costs when planning a new healthcare facility.
COVID-19 and how DIRTT fits in
With the outbreak out COVID-19, DIRTT is ready to help. The speed of our construction paired with our ability to meet IP&C requirements means that we’re in a unique position. We need hospitals, care facilities and testing centers. Fast. Even when timelines are tight, DIRTT can deliver. Our 21-day lead times are a huge advantage when you need to get up and running quickly. Creating new healthcare spaces in a short time time span can increase capacity. This could provide improved ability to test people that may have been exposed to the coronavirus. This helps flatten the curve and keep our healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
Want to learn more about building a healthcare facility with DIRTT? Check out DIRTT's rapid prefab for emergency response.
1. Plowman R, Graves N, Griffin MA, Roberts JA, Swan AV, Cookson B, et al. The rate and cost of hospital acquired infections occurring in patients admitted to selected specialties of a district general hospital in England and the national burden imposed. J Hosp Infect. 2001 Mar;47(3):198-209.
2. Zoutman D, McDonald S, Vethanayagan D. Total and attributable costs of surgical-wound infections at a Canadian tertiary-care center. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 1998 Apr;19(4):254-9.
DIRTT Environmental Solutions uses its 3D software to create prefabricated interiors. Each space is tailored to our clients' needs. Manufacturing facilities are located in Phoenix, Savannah and Calgary. DIRTT works with nearly 100 construction partners globally. DIRTT trades on Nasdaq under the symbol “DRTT” and on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol “DRT”.