Data and Design: Solving for Health and Retention

By Mary Dickinson and Breeze Glazer

Data, especially that which proves positive operational outcomes as a result of design strategies, is a major driver of the health and wellness trend. Health systems have long used data to proactively address patient health while striving to reduce long-term costs.

In recent years, “big data,” the use of large data sets analyzed computationally to reveal trends and associations, has prominently entered the discussion. As an example, a New York-based health system is now developing algorithms to predict when an inpatient may develop adverse conditions that require transfer to the ICU. However, an important opportunity remains untouched: the health of healthcare practitioners.

As often reported, a nurse staffing crisis is straining the U.S. healthcare system. Healthcare institutions have to compete to attract nurses, and collectively spend billions on recruiting and retention efforts. Is there an opportunity for hospitals to use their commitment to employee health, demonstrated through accurate data results, as a primary strategy to attract the best and brightest applicants possible?

In corporate America, data is already driving the implementation of health and wellness strategies. With an average overhead comprised of 90 percent dedicated to salary and benefits expenditures, investments made to create a healthy, happy workforce translate directly into productivity and success. Consider these statistics:

  • Absenteeism costs employers an average of $2,074 and $2,502 per employee per year.
  • The turnover rate, year-to-date in 2017, is 3.5 percent.
  • Companies with low engagement suffer from a 32 percent decrease in operating income.
  • Engaged employees take 10 times fewer sick days, make 27 percent more sales and stay in their jobs five times longer than the disengaged!

Within the commercial building industry, data collected from pre- and post- occupancy evaluations has begun to shed light on the outcomes of efforts to support employee wellness. For instance, in a study of the CBRE Global Corporate Headquarters in Los Angeles, after piloting the WELL rating system, 83 percent of occupants felt more productive, 92 percent said the space had a positive impact on health and well-being and 93 percent experienced easier collaboration. While data addressing health-related outcomes (such as reduced blood pressure and asthma attacks) is still being studied, we’ve learned perception plays a key role in well-being, reducing stress and thus impacting overall health.

Likewise, a common saying in healthcare is, to have a happy and healthy patient, you need a happy and healthy nurse. Consider the wellness opportunity presented by just one area of concern, access to daylight.

This issue impacts both daytime workers in facilities without access and shift workers during overnight periods. Science suggests the timing of the sleep/wake schedule and work schedule of night shift nurses remains permanently out of phase with the natural light/dark cycle, and can cause health problems such as cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal issues, cancer risk and pregnancy complications. For daytime workers without daylight access, other risks exist: they have been shown to have more physical problems, less vitality and poorer overall sleep quality and quantity compared to daytime workers with daylight access. Conversely, studies have shown that nurses who were exposed to daylight for at least three hours a day experienced less stress and were more satisfied at work than those that weren’t.

Design-based solutions already exist, but are often not implemented in facility design due to misperceptions about cost or simply a lack of expertise. Could a renewed data-driven focus on the health of healthcare workers better support these solutions in the future by directly linking design responses to healthcare outcomes?

When considering the staffing crisis faced by many healthcare institutions and the incredible financial cost associated, a renewed focus on this issue should be seen as not only the right thing to do, but also an employment strategy. To do so, healthcare institutions should explore opportunities to measure and track the health data of their own employees and identify the design-based strategies that have been shown to improve long-term health outcomes.

Mary Dickinson is regional sustainability lead designer and co-director of the material performance lab at the Dallas office of global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will. She’s also a member of the U.S. Green Building Council North Texas Chapter.

Breeze Glazer is a sustainable healthcare leader at the New York office of global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will. He frequently shares expertise through speaking engagements such as the CleanMed and Healthcare Design conferences and authorship for publications such as Environmental Design and Construction magazine and Healthcare Facilities Management magazine.

Posted in Expert Opinions.