The bariatric patient and trends in health facility design

*Editor's note: Jennifer Kovacs Silvis is Managing Editor of HEALTHCARE DESIGN and Editor-in-Chief of Healthcare Building Ideas, both sister publications of Long-Term Living. Check out more coverage of the HCD.11 Conference here.

With 68% of U.S. adults either overweight or obese (and 48% of the pediatric population), hospitals and medical facilities are subsequently faced with the challenge of adjusting their buildings to accommodate the growing segment.

Debra Harris, PhD, CEO, RAD Consultants, discussed the trend at the HEALTHCARE DESIGN.11 conference in Nashville during the session “The Bariatric Patient—How Will New Guidelines Impact Health Facility Design?”

Harris transitioned through several slides depicting a map of the United States and the percentage of each state’s bariatric population growth over the years. As of 2010, Colorado was the last of all the states to cross the 20% threshold.

“The makeup of our country has changed a great deal when you’re looking at obesity in the United States,” she says.

While research regarding how to manage this exists in the form of general safe patient handling, Harris urges that more studies need to be conducted specifically on bariatric patients. For now, the healthcare design industry has the 2010 edition of the Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities from the Facility Guidelines Institute, which tackles the subject, presenting direction for designing bariatric patient environments.

However, when implementing design to accommodate larger individuals, a number of factors must be considered, including the size of:

  • Corridors/door openings;
  • Patient rooms;
  • Equipment;
  • Furniture; and
  • Storage.

Specifically regarding patient rooms, Harris explored guidelines such as achieving 5 feet on both the sides and foot of the bed, a 200-square-foot clear floor area, handwashing stations that can handle a static force of 1,000 pounds, and shower stalls sized at 4-feet-by-six-feet, to name a few.

“Everything keeps getting a bigger,” she says.

Of course, making such transitions also has impact not only on a facility’s physical footprint, but on the capital budget as well. When determining what is best for a building, Harris suggests assessing the specific patient population, the frequency of bariatric patient visits, accommodations for potentially bariatric family and friends, and the best method for incorporating the result into the facility.

Most often, the answer lies in either the incorporation of bariatric-targeted designs dispersed among traditional designs, or the creation of a bariatric care unit.

For those interested in weighing in on the FGI’s bariatric guidelines, Harris urges proposals be sent in for review. “We take those very seriously and welcome them,” she says.

Topics: Design