• Unit design;
  • ICU;
  • medical-surgical unit;
  • hospital design


Purpose: To describe the current state of design characteristics determined to be desirable by the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) in U.S. adult medical, surgical, and intensive care units (ICUs).

Design: Descriptive study of patient visibility; distance to hygiene, toileting, charting, and supplies; unit configuration; percentage of private rooms; and presence or absence of carpeting in 56 ICUs and 81 medical-surgical units in six metropolitan areas.

Methods: Data were collected via observation, measurement, and interviews. Unit configurations were classified via an iterative process. Descriptive data were analyzed according to ICU and non-ICU status using SPSS (Version 15).

Findings: Analysis of unit configurations indicated eight unit designs. Statistical analysis showed inter- and intrahospital variation in unit configurations, percentage private rooms, carpeting, visibility, and distance to supplies and charting. Few units met the AHRQ designated design elements studied.

Conclusions: A wide gap exists between desirable characteristics in ICUs and medical-surgical units. Future research is needed to explore operationalization of unit design elements as risk adjustments, how design elements contribute to patient outcomes, and how design elements influence one another.

Clinical Relevance: There is room for improvement on almost every design variable, particularly on medical-surgical units. Future planning should take into consideration the interaction of bed capacity and unit configuration.