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For the human body to develop properly and stay healthy, many processes must work together at many different levels – from organs to cells to genes. Cells are constantly receiving cues from both inside and outside the body—prompted by forces such as injury, infection, or stress. To react and adjust to these cues, cells send and receive signals through biological pathways that can act over short or long distances.
Biological pathways help our bodies adjust to all aspects of the environment. When the ambient light levels change from dark to bright, the pupil in the eye opens or closes in response to light. When skin sensors detect rising temperatures, the body sweats to cool through evaporation. If a potential threat is perceived the autonomic nervous system is activated and rapidly increases blood flow to the musculature and raises circulating glucose levels, resulting in an enhanced capacity to fight or flee.
These pathways enable one area to communicate effectively with the body as a whole. This communication is essential for both maintaining a healthy homeostasis and responding to internal or external disruptions, large or small. In multicellular organisms the communicating signal must also initiate a cascade of events to contain the problem and initiate a process that leads to healing. Without these biological signaling pathways, we could not adapt to physiological and psychological changes, and survival would be limited.
The hospital is similar to our own bodies, in that it has a structure that supports patient care and patient safety. Like any environment, the hospital building contributes to the success or failure of patient healing. What signals are in place when there is a system malfunction or breakdown that can result in patient harm? In the case of smoke or a fire, a smoke detector or sprinkler signaler triggers an alarm and releases water or other fire extinguishing compounds to begin to control the fire. Signaling pathways are not usually in place to communicate the status of building parameters that contribute to patient harm, such as healthcare-associated infections and other medical errors.
If we look at the list of preventable medical errors occurring in hospitals as defined by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and then ask how the human body would naturally respond to an analogous threat, we could learn valuable strategies.
The following chart shows the “best outcome” following system breakdowns in a facility equipped with an intelligent hospital infrastructure that monitors key mechanical systems and environmental parameters to ensure patient safety.
Following the examples of the human body, an automated intelligent hospital infrastructure can identify the most vulnerable patients and most critical hospital functions, providing alerting to contain the problem as well as initiate steps to reverse the threat.
More information on how an intelligent hospital infrastructure can replicate the structure/ function relationship of the human body can be found in the white paper: “The Human Hospital: How to Create an Autonomic Nervous System for Your Facility.”
The ideal design for a hospital building, mechanical systems, staff work areas and patient healing spaces integrates safety measures to minimize the chance for the errors listed above.
Using human anatomy as our guide, what normal strategies does the body utilize to prevent injuries and illness? How would you complete the following chart to prevent building problems if designing a new facility or renovating existing space? Let us know in the comments!