Clemson Researchers Receive Grant to Design Safer, Smarter Hospital Operating Room

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson architecture professor Anjali Joseph and her multidisciplinary team of researchers and clinical specialists have received a research grant from the Agency for He­­althcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to create a learning lab focusing on the design of a safer, more ergonomic hospital operating room. The research team includes faculty and researchers at Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Heath Sciences South Carolina (HSSC). The initial grant is for $1 million, with an additional $3 million, if approved, over the following three years.

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“This research is a great example of the power of multidisciplinary collaboration,” said Clemson President James P. Clements. “Dr. Joseph is leading an outstanding team of people from two universities in multiple colleges and departments, and I know that their work will make a difference for doctors, nurses and, most importantly, patients.”

Anjali Joseph
Anjali Joseph
Joseph is the principal investigator of the new research study “Realizing Improved Patient Care Through Human-Centered Design in the OR (RIPCHD.OR).” She is the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System SmartState Endowed Chair in Architecture + Health Design, director of Clemson University’s Center for Health Facilities Design and Testing, and associate professor of architecture at Clemson.

Many hospital operating rooms are antiquated, cramped spaces that do not accommodate today’s high-tech surgical equipment, complex processes and human interactions. Distractions and interruptions are major causes of errors during surgery and often lead to patient harm. Additionally, up to five percent of patients who undergo surgery will develop a surgical site infection. Smarter, evidence-based design has the potential to make operating rooms safer for patients and health care personnel alike.

“Our team of collaborators will design, develop and test various design and systems solutions and will implement these new ideas in surgical environments at MUSC,” Joseph said. “We will have the opportunity to test innovative new operating room designs in a live clinical setting. That’s an extraordinary opportunity.”

“This groundbreaking research is a perfect example of collaboration,” said Richard Goodstein, dean of Clemson’s College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. “Researchers from multiple disciplines across multiples institutions are bringing to bear the full weight of their knowledge and talent to reimagine one of medicine’s most critical settings.”

The group will look for ways to improve operating rooms — including pediatric operating rooms — by making them safer, not just bigger. They will search for solutions to help prevent post-operative infections, reduce mistakes and avoid workplace injuries to the medical team. To do so, the RIPCHD.OR learning lab will develop new ideas, build an operating room prototype in Charleston to test and refine these ideas and eventually implement these solutions in MUSC’s new Ambulatory Surgery Center in Charleston.

“Operating room design and function has changed very little in the past 50 years,” said Dr. Scott T. Reeves, co-director of the RIPCHD.OR learning lab and co-principal investigator from MUSC. “This grant will allow the collaborative team from MUSC, Clemson and HSSC to critically evaluate the assumptions behind a modern operating room and scientifically identify areas ripe for innovation resulting ultimately in improved patient safety.”

“Poor surgical outcomes can rarely be blamed on a single cause and are far more likely to be the result of a combination of reasons, some of which are inherent in the setting,” Joseph said. “Studying the big picture is the goal of our team, which includes architects, design researchers, human factors engineers, operations management researchers, anesthesiologists, surgeons and nurses.

“This project is one of a kind because it takes an integrated systems approach to improving patient safety outcomes in the operating room. No studies have examined the impact of the physical environment of the operating room in conjunction with other system components, such as tasks and associated workflows, equipment design and individual factors.”

Surgical leaders from the South Carolina Surgical Quality Collaborative led by HSSC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Chris Turley will help vet the group’s findings.

The team also will interact closely with graduate students across Clemson University. Graduate students will build upon the research findings to develop innovative operating room design solutions. They also will help build a physical mockup of the operating room in Charleston that incorporates some of their design ideas.

“The award of this grant builds on the founding principles of the Architecture + Health program, and years of work by Clemson faculty and students, on collaborative, interdisciplinary and integrated research projects that weave research and design activities in an iterative process,” said David Allison, FAIA, FACHA Alumni Distinguished Professor of architecture and director of Clemson University’s Graduate Program in Architecture + Health. “This work is intended to advance the understanding of these environments across multiple dimensions, and also serve as a rich learning experience for the students involved who will eventually be responsible for helping create better health care — and health care settings — of the future.”