Research on patient room design brings international recognition for nursing professor

News Release — 25 June 2010


Media contact: Traci Peterson, (817) 272-9208,

ARLINGTON - Recent research by The University of Texas at Arlington's College of Nursing and Dallas-based architectural firm HKS Inc. could influence the future of hospital room design.

The work already has caught the attention of health and architecture professionals worldwide.



The study, "An Empirical Examination of Patient Room Handedness in Acute Medical-Surgical Settings," took home the Best International Research Project award this month at the 2010 Design & Health International Academy Awards at the University of Toronto in Canada. Researchers' examination of hospital rooms designed for right or left-handed health-care workers and whether other standardization of the rooms is needed drew praise from judges.

"This study is the only empirical research that systematically addressed the questions of standardization and same-handedness, developed objective definitions of complex concepts and drew meaningful inferences. The findings will have a strong industry impact," according to a citation from the judges.

Adjoining hospital rooms traditionally have been designed as mirror images of each other to make the most efficient use of electrical wiring, said Professor Carolyn Cason, associate dean for research of the UT Arlington College of Nursing. But, Cason said, in the past decade health care safety advocates have suggested that a higher level of standardization could be needed to prevent accidents.

Cason and co-investigators from HKS Clinical Solutions & Research, a part of the architecture firm, wanted to test safety advocates' ideas. UT Arlington's Smart Hospital, a 13,000-square-foot simulation venue, was the perfect setting. It allowed them to easily manipulate room design and monitor and record the results.

Researchers found that left-handed or right-handed care environments don't have significant impacts on the efficiency of care or safety; but room design standardization does. Specifically, a consistent entry point - with the bed always to the right or always to the left - led to better outcomes. That's not possible with mirror-image rooms.

Cason hopes the research is the first step in a body of data that will help hospital planners explain how a change in traditional design could lead to better patient care.

"Standardization means you can find something quickly, so that you don't have to remember which room you're in and you don't have to look for it," Cason said. "If we put everything in the same place no matter what room we're in, you know where to reach for it."

The work was funded through a $15,000 grant from the Academy of Architecture for Health Foundation and a $10,000 grant from Herman Miller Inc., a worldwide distributor of furniture systems.

UT Arlington's kinesiology and math departments and the University's Office of information Technology also were involved in the research. The approach is an example of how UT Arlington faculty members are working across disciplines to further their commitment to building a nationally recognized research university.

This is the second year that researchers from HKS have taken home the Best International Research Project. This year's team included Debajyoti Pati, vice president and director of research with HKS Clinical Solutions and Research, Tom E. Harvey Jr., senior vice president, and Jennie Evans, clinical adviser.

"Repeated recognitions like this from an international review committee shows our commitment to and success in adding value to our projects through research" Pati said. "The blending of research expertise and rich professional experience is a powerful medium to provide transformational services to our clients located all over the world."

HKS, Inc. is a leading architectural design firm ranked among the top-four architectural/engineering firms, according to Building Design+Construction magazine and among the top-seven architectural firms, according to BD World Architecture magazine. The firm operates from 22 worldwide offices.

HKS designed UT Arlington's 6,500-seat Special Events Center, which is under construction on the eastern edge of campus. The $78 million center opens in late 2011.

UT Arlington's College of Nursing is the 16th largest nursing program in the nation and has more than 4,100 students in bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs. The College is ranked as one of nine "high performers" among the 97 Texas nursing education programs. More than 95 percent of graduates pass state licensure exams on their first attempt.

For more about UT Arlington's College of Nursing, please visit


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