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Single Rooms Becoming the Norm in New Hospitals

Trend could reduce spread of infections, medication errors, report says

TUESDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- France is doing it. Britain, the Netherlands and Norway are on their way.

And hospitals elsewhere should be doing it, too, namely moving toward all single rooms in newly built hospitals, argue the authors of a paper in the Aug. 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"[Previous studies] have shown that it does reduce infections, there is some evidence that it may reduce medication errors, the physician can talk to the patient in private, and the family can be there," said Jane Bolin, an associate professor of health policy and management at Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health in College Station. "I think hospitals are going that way."

According to background information in the article, multi-bed wards have been the norm in hospitals, with semi-private and private rooms reserved for those who could pay.

Now, single, double and four-bed rooms are the norm, though single rooms were signaled as the best way to deliver patient care almost a century ago.

Among the numerous benefits of private rooms, according to the authors, from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the University of Toronto in Canada:

  • They reduce hospital-acquired infections, especially important in the age of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and SARS. "Most of the cases of the SARS outbreak in Toronto came out of a hospital, which could have been avoided if they didn't have multiple patients in a room," Bolin pointed out. Private rooms also have private bathrooms, again helping to curb infection.
  • Patients who have changing needs won't need to be transferred to other rooms, possibly resulting in harm to the patient. Even now, baby-delivery suites can quickly be transformed into semi-surgical rooms when needed, Bolin said.
  • Patients can get access to beds more quickly. Now, for instance, two empty beds in a male-only room would go to waste if females were waiting for beds.
  • Private rooms mean you don't have to discuss your sensitive medical matters in front of strangers.
  • Families and friends will find it easier to visit (many single rooms already have parent or spouse beds).
  • Private rooms are calmer and have lower noise levels, which helps keep blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate in check, along with improved pain control and sleep quality.

A focus on single rooms would increase construction costs, with one study finding that the cost for building a new ward with only single-patient rooms would be $182 to $400 per patient, versus $122 to $500 per patient for a ward with double rooms.

But many of those costs are capital costs and would be recouped relatively quickly.

"Many people consider an expensive hotel room to be $300 to $500 per night, whereas the average cost per night in a hospital is $400 to $2,000," Bolin said. "About $40,000 in overall construction costs could be recouped, and it's not that much, considering the cost of equipment."

More information

Visit the American Hospital Association for more on issues affecting hospitals.

SOURCES: Jane Bolin, J.D., Ph.D., B.S.N., associate professor, health policy and management, Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, College Station; Aug. 27, 2008, Journal of the American Medical Association

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