Neonatal intensive care units designed with single-family rooms not only increase patient privacy but also boost staff satisfaction and reduce stress, according to a University of Florida study.
The study explored the implications of the single-family room design when compared with open-bay, double-occupancy and combination configurations at 11 hospitals nationwide. The single-family room design has separate rooms for each infant, while the open-bay unit has one large room with all the infant stations side-by-side.
Typically, staff working in an open-bay unit believe their jobs will be more difficult and they will spend less time with patients if their unit is redesigned as a single-family room unit, said Debra Harris, UF interior design assistant professor who was principal investigator for the study. This is because the open-bay unit allows the staff to see all patients and to have ongoing contact with other staff in the unit.
"However, once the unit switched to the single-family room, we found the opposite to be true. Staff noticed the obvious benefits of the private rooms for the patient and family," Harris said. "At the same time, the staff were able to rely on technology to assist them in keeping abreast of their patients' health. Staff reported lower stress and higher satisfaction in the single-family room units."
The study revealed many benefits to the single-family room design, but surprisingly, found a relatively low increase in the cost to construct a new unit at an existing or new hospital.
"There was a mere 3 percent increase in the first construction costs for the single-family room design. We thought it would be greater," Harris said.
The study looked at Level III NICUs, which care for the most acute babies needing the most specialized care. Researchers employed five methods to compare the units, including space allocations, construction costs, staff preferences and perceptions and occupant behaviors. The study was published in the October issue of the Journal of Perinatology.
Other researchers involved include Mardelle Shepley of Texas A&M University, Robert White of Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind., Kathleen Kolberg of the University of Notre Dame and James Harrell of the Harrell Group in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Previous research on single-family room units is limited. Harris views this study as a preliminary, comprehensive effort to generate future in-depth research.
Researchers were unable to obtain sufficient data to compare the impact of room design on the health of the infants, but a future study will include data on weight, days on ventilation, head circumference, hospital-acquired infections, length of stay, etc.
"This study presents an agenda for further research. In addition, it can be used as a tool for hospitals to determine if their NICUs should or can be designed as single-family units," Harris said. "For those renovating existing space, this may prove challenging. But for new units, it is an option that should be considered."