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An Empirical Examination of the Impacts of Decentralized Nursing Unit Design

September 2015
EBD Journal Club


Pati, D., Harvey, T., Redden, P., & Summers, B. (2015). An empirical examination of the impacts of decentralized nursing unit design. Health Environments Research & Design Journal, 8(2), 56-70


Objective: The objective of the study was to examine the impact of decentralization on operational
efficiency, staff well-being, and teamwork on three inpatient units.

Background: Decentralized unit operations and the corresponding physical design solution were hypothesized to positively affect several concerns—productive use of nursing time, staff stress, walking distances, and teamwork, among others. With a wide adoption of the concept, empirical evidence on the impact of decentralization was warranted.

Methods: A multimethod, before-and-after, quasi-experimental design was adopted for the
study, focusing on five issues, namely, (1) how nurses spend their time, (2) walking distance, (3) acute
stress, (4) productivity, and (5) teamwork. Data on all five issues were collected on three older units
with centralized operational model (before move). The same set of data, with identical tools and
measures, were collected on the same units after move in to new physical units with decentralized
operational model. Data were collected during spring and fall of 2011.

Results: Documentation, nurse station use, medication room use, and supplies room use showed consistent change across the three units. Walking distance increased (statistically significant) on two of the three units. Self-reported level of collaboration decreased, although assessment of the physical facility for collaboration increased.

Conclusions: Decentralized nursing and physical design models potentially result in quality of work
improvements associated with documentation, medication, and supplies. However, there are unexpected consequences associated with walking, and staff collaboration and teamwork. The solution to the unexpected consequences may lie in operational interventions and greater emphasis on culture change.

Keywords: decentralized nursing, acute care, collaboration, nurse walking, inpatient unit design