Blog | Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Let's consign shared hospital rooms to the dustbin of healthcare history

The medical world has made terrific scientific and technological progress over the last century. Previously incurable diseases can now be treated as day cases and patients no longer have to accept a paternalistic, 1-sided relationship with their doctors. Hospitals too, have a come a long way if you look at pictures of what they used to look like in those old black and white photographs. Whatever the current challenges of health care, nobody can doubt that patients now receive first class care each and every day across the nation's hospitals.

I remember when I first came to the United States a decade ago to start my medical residency in Baltimore, one of the things that impressed me most was the fact that no hospital room ever seemed to contain more than 2 patients together. Having just come from the United Kingdom's National Health Service, which on many levels I still admire, I would regularly round in rooms which would have up to 8 patients in a single large room—sometimes even more in the older hospitals. In this respect, the United States has been well ahead of almost every country in the world for a long time (some of which shockingly still have males and females together in mixed rooms). Nevertheless, as we propel ourselves further into the healthcare future, we can do even better and strive for that ultimate goal: single-bed rooms for all hospitalized patients.

Last year I wrote an article titled “Single bed rooms are a must for future hospitals” in which I listed a number of reasons why we need to move towards this goal. Chief among these are infection risk, patient satisfaction and privacy. These reasons cannot be overstated. I've seen concerns arise on an all-too-frequent basis in hospitals I've worked in. For example, the number of complaints I hear from patients who are disturbed by their neighbor and have found it difficult to rest are too numerous for me to count. I've also been asked many questions by anxious patients and families about whether their neighbor could pass on any infection to them. These are difficult questions for any physician to answer, because we know that for many conditions, it's theoretically possible.

As new hospitals are being built, it is heartening that lots of them are advertising the fact that they will only have single, private rooms. This should become the gold-standard. Think it's expensive? Imagine all the positives in terms of reduced infection risk, happier patients and a generally better reputation compared to nearby hospitals that don't have single rooms. I hope that in the not too distant future, certainly within my career, sharing a hospital room will become just as unacceptable as checking in at a hotel and being told that you have to share your room with a complete stranger! This is, after all, about so much more than convenience and personal preference. For our patients it's about dignity and respect at a low point in their lives.

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care. This post originally appeared at his blog.