Hospitals didn't need the Affordable Care Act to spur them into designing safer patient rooms. They've been preparing for that aspect of health reform for years.

So, despite an apparent decline in the number of safety features incorporated into patient room design last year, industry experts say the issue remains as much a priority for organizations as ever.

Data from the annual construction survey from Trustee sister publication Health Facilities Management and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering showed a modest dip in safety features from a year earlier. The top five features incorporated for safety remained the same:

  • in-room computers for patient charting
  • wireless technologies for staff (which fell a spot from most common feature cited in the 2011 survey)
  • in-room sink
  • computerized provider order entry
  • patient lifts for transfer

Other popular in-room safety features included are, in order of frequency, specialty lighting, bar coding for medication administration, added air treatment or air movement capacity, and a medication dispensing station — the latter two newly added to the survey as hospitals experiment with more solutions.

The added incentive for hospitals is that they now have more of a financial stake in care outcomes. Medicare and Medicaid won't reimburse hospitals and systems when patients are readmitted for preventable conditions.

More features mean more expense, which could explain the temporary drop during a year of uncertainty about whether reform measures would stand. But, ultimately, organizations will do what they can to stop health care-associated infections from spreading through air ventilation or water systems, experts say.

A new push on patient room safety is coming as well. Patient safety and infection control will be top priorities in the 2014 edition of the Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities. One proposal being considered is to incorporate a patient and caregiver safety risk-assessment requirement so that all health facility projects are designed to facilitate the safe delivery of care.

For more, visit