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Applying the “Broken Windows” Theory to Healthcare

January 2016
Author: Lisa Ellis

It’s the little things that matter when it comes to the message you are sending your patients and their families. In other words, the better your waiting rooms and public spaces look, the louder the message you’ll send to your audience that you care about them, their comfort, and their safety.

Consider the “Broken Windows Policing” theory, which has received a great deal of attention lately. This theory sets forth the idea that in urban areas, any buildings with broken windows, graffiti-covered walls, and trash on the ground signal that no one really cares about the area—and that it isn’t as safe as other neighborhoods. That’s why, in big cities like New York and San Francisco, police departments now take the time and effort to address broken windows and other eyesores to let troubled neighborhoods know they mean business. This discourages further forms of deterioration and helps residents feel more secure.

This theory can also translate into the healthcare setting, according to Dr. Roger Ulrich, Professor of Architecture at the Center for Healthcare Architecture at Chalmers University in Sweden.

While you obviously won’t have broken windows or graffiti in most modern hospitals or clinics, there are other tangible signs that can communicate to patients and families that your system isn’t operating properly.

The clues can be any type of deterioration in the patient’s line of sight, including visible dirt in hallways or doorways, cracked floors and ceiling tiles, and scraps of trash discarded in corners or in the elevator.

Even wilting or dead plants left in the waiting area contribute to patient suspicion that your hospital isn’t up to par when it comes to care and cleanliness. These signs of neglect cause patients to feel insecure in your setting.It’s important to make the effort to look at your spaces from every angle and ensure it’s achieving the image you want your patients to see. If not, take the time to clean up your act so you can truly earn people’s trust in the care they are receiving.

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