6 Ways to Reduce Healthcare-Acquired Infections with Design

Roughly one in every 25 patients receiving care in U.S. hospitals contract a healthcare-acquired infection (HAI) each day[1]. The most common HAI types are pneumonia and surgical-site infection. The direct costs of HAIs to hospitals range from $28.4 to $45 billion yearly.[2] While the largest single deterrent to HAIs is proper hand washing and hygiene, facility design can also play a role fighting HAIs. REES’ healthcare group created a few things to consider when designing and operating your healthcare facility to reduce the number of HAI cases and minimize costs in your healthcare facility. 

1. Provide Patients with Private Rooms

Our design team encourages private patient rooms with private bathrooms to reduce cross-contamination. In a study by the University of North Texas Health Science Center, researchers found hospitals with mostly private rooms had 33 percent fewer central line infections than hospitals with mostly bay rooms. Some may say it’s too costly to provide separate patient rooms, but each HAI case can cost your facility between $1,000 and $50,000, depending upon the type of infection.[3]

2. Consider Toilet Placements

The traditional restroom design positions toilets next to the hand washing sink. While this lowers cost of plumbing installation, the sink can collect a reservoir of bacteria creating a source for infections. A recent study found 87 percent of patient sinks next to toilets tested positive for Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC) compared to 21.7 percent of sink drains located closer to the entry door of the room.

3. Use Copper Materials and Equipment in Patient Rooms

Certain microbes have become resistant to disinfectants and antibiotics. These same microbes remain defenseless when in contact with copper. A study used both copper and traditional materials in a healthcare setting and found rooms with copper equipment had 98% lower concentrations of bacteria than their counterparts. Copper is being integrated in fixtures including grab bars, tables, sinks and even bed sheets to kill microbes on contact.

4. Choose Hard Surface Flooring

Studies have shown microbes live longer in carpet than on hard surfaces. Even the carpet cleaning process can cause fungal spores to become airborne. Hard surface flooring should be used in your facility. While business and administrative areas may be the exception, carpet in those areas should be vacuumed daily and periodically steam cleaned.

5. Place Staff Hand Washing Sink near Patient's Door

We suggest placing the staff hand washing sink inside patient rooms between the door and the patient’s bed. This will remind staff and visitors to wash their hands when entering the room and before touching the patient. The Federal Guidelines Institute (FGI) suggests this especially in post-partum rooms due to the high number of visitors that will interact with patients.

6. Hire a Reputable Mechanical, Engineering and Plumbing Team

We cannot stress enough the importance of selecting a reputable MEP team with strong experience designing in the healthcare setting. Three patients recently died after contracting Legionnaires’ disease during an outbreak linked to a water system at a Wisconsin Hospital.[4] It is also important to periodically test cooling towers, chillers, condensers and potable water systems as part of facility maintenance.


With many outpatient procedures and diagnostic testing being done, these tips can be easily translated into an outpatient setting. No matter the setting, it’s important to proactively evaluate ways to prevent healthcare-acquired infections within design. We would love to hear your feedback on this subject! Click here to continue the conversation.


[1] https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa1306801