Craig Zimring Takes His Expertise on Hospital Safety to Switzerland

In the United States, there has been increasing attention to the human and financial costs of preventable medical errors and hospital-acquired infections. A Johns Hopkins study in 2016 suggests that more than 250,000 patients die each year from medical errors.

The estimate is that the rates are similar for Europe, with thousands of people killed each year in Switzerland alone.

Europe is focusing on these problems and in the spring, SimTigrate Design Lab Director Craig Zimring was invited to keynote a meeting of Patient Safety Switzerland Foundation, which was created in 2003 to promote patient safety.

He was invited to this conference to share his expertise and research providing the evidence that better design of hospitals can reduce this toll.

Zimring is one of the founders of the use of evidence-based design, which involves making design decisions based on the best available evidence, often acquired through research or review of peer-reviewed journals.

He has said that “preventable medical errors in healthcare facilities are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., resulting in 200,000-400,000 unnecessary deaths. Better design can reduce harms to patients.”

Zimring was the only American among an international group of speakers at the Patient Safety Switzerland Symposium, which drew nearly 200 top European Clinicians and Designers to Zurich. The theme: “More patient safety by design: Systemic approaches for hospitals.” Patient Safety Switzerland is the country’s national foundation dedicated to safe medicine.

“Prof. Zimring is one of the leading experts worldwide in the field of patient safety and design – that’s why we invited him to our symposium! We are looking forward to learning from his experiences and his expertise,” Prof. Dr. David Schwappach, Scientific Head of the Swiss Patient Safety Foundation, and Irene Kobler, a project manager with Patient Safety Switzerland, said in an email.

Zimring and his SimTigrate Design Lab focus on using design to create better and safer healthcare experiences, from intensive care units to surgical suites to patient rooms to outpatient care and more.

Zimring, also a professor in the School of Architecture at Georgia Tech, said, “We can reduce death and suffering (with) large and small design improvements: Better layouts can improve teamwork and reduce falls and patient mortality on the ICU while more-visible hand washing opportunities can boost hand cleaning between patients.”

Switzerland has more than US $20 billion in new hospitals planned and hopes to incorporate these safety and quality measures into the new designs, according to Dr. Hugo Sax, head of patient safety for University of Zurich.

As Dr. Schwappach, the head of research for the Foundation said, “It is easier to change the physical setting than to change behavior. Behavior change tends to be expensive and fleeting. Now that evidence is available it clears the way for change.”

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  • Craig Zimring (Spring 2017)

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