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How Hospital Design Saves Lives

Design changes can cut infection rates, lower physician errors, improve staff performance, and make all the difference in delivering care

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine shocked the health-care industry with its landmark report, "To Err Is Human," which highlighted the staggering human and financial costs of medical error: an estimated 44,000 to 98,000 in the U.S. dead each year as a result of medical errors, more than from motor vehicle accidents or breast cancer, costing the country between $17 billion and $29 billion in health-care costs, disability, and lost income.

Yet it wasn't all fire and brimstone. The report emphasized the benefit to be had from focusing not on individual people making individual mistakes, but rather on the systems themselves. Health care, the Institute of Medicine said, had to learn from industries such as aviation, nuclear power, and construction that dramatically increased safety using "systems thinking," looking holistically at failures, rather than identifying a single weak link.