Recapping the 2017 Harvard Healthcare Symposium

The first edition of the 2017 Healthcare Symposium took place at Harvard Medical School on May 31, 2017. This landmark event brought together clinicians and engineers to discuss their shared roles in improving patient outcomes by better designing and managing healthcare environments.

Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Stephanie Taylor and Healthcare Associated Infections Organization’s Howard McKew, PE, C.P.E., lead discussions on advancements in the use of humidity control to ensure optimum patient health, the importance of indoor air quality in airborne infectious disease management and how advancements in building environments can improve staff health, reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.

The day-long symposium featured talks led by thought leaders in healthcare and facility management, including Stephanie Taylor, MD, Harvard Medical School Healthcare Association Infections Organization; Don Goldmann, MD, IHI, Harvard Medical School; Derek Feeley, President, IHI; Howard McKew, PE, Partners Hospital Design Engineer Steering Committee, HAIO; Traci Hanegan, PE, Principal, Mechanical Engineer (Coffman), and Rahul Rastogi, MD, Chief Operating Officer, Northwest Permanente (Kaiser), Jeff Kline, Senior Research Associate, Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory, and Damon Greeley, PE, Founder & President Global Health Systems Inc.

The event was preceded by an exclusive reception at the Boston Harvard Club on May 30, where Institute for Healthcare Improvement President Derek Feeley discussed the symbiotic relationship between healthcare professionals and engineers in the push for safer and more effective healthcare facilities and infrastructure.

Speakers and organizers were delighted by the response to the event. “Our goal was to bring together clinicians, facility managers and engineers. This is a novel thing,” says Dr. Taylor in conversation with Condair. “It’s tying together the function of medicine with the structure of medicine. It’s really fascinating because physicians and infectious control professionals were not as familiar with how important the building is, especially how harmful dry indoor air is for the healthcare environment Building professionals – engineers and facility managers – didn’t really understand the full impact that their job had on patient healing.

The obstacle was getting these two very well-educated and specialized groups of people to talk openly and honestly between one another. The reward was having each group realize how important their shared role is in making patient care a lot better.”

Condair Business Development Manager for Healthcare and Life Sciences Pat Demitrio echoed Dr. Taylor’s conclusions following the conference. “It was very unique because we brought so many different disciplines together that don’t normally talk,” says Demitrio, referring to the communication gap between clinicians, engineers, and facility managers. “I think that was critical to what we’re doing in [facilitating] a dialogue that’s beneficial to the patient.”

Dr. Taylor observes that the connection between these two groups was eye-opening for attendees. “People were surprised as they realized how the success of medicine in getting patients out of the hospital without a new infection or in a body bag really depends on these two groups of people working together.”

The symposium raised awareness of the role of the building in patient outcomes, particularly the harmful effects of dry indoor air. “When we think about whether a building is successful, we think: what’s the real estate value on this, how much did it cost to build, how much energy is it using, is it a beautiful building,” says Dr. Taylor. “Rarely do we ask ourselves if the building is supporting the people’s health inside that building. Rarely do you assess a building based on its effect on occupants. Why don’t we use the well-being of patients to tell us if a building is doing its job?”

Demitrio echoes this line of thought. “We must ask ourselves, is the patient getting harmed by coming into the building for five days for a hospital visit? Or is the patient going home safely without further infections or complications? That has to be a factor in assessing an effective building design in the healthcare space.”

Dr. Taylor’s innovative approach of using patients as a bio-indicator of the hospital could revolutionize the connection between the indoor environment and patient health. “It turns out how we design and how we manage indoor air influences the microbiomes of buildings,” says Dr. Taylor. “It’s kind of like we’ve discovered a whole new microscope to understand our world.”

Building on the success of this year’s symposium, Dr. Taylor and Demitrio both have high hopes for next year’s event, looking to reach out to the architectural community and expand the same principles to facility managers and decision makers in other indoor shared spaces, such as schools and office environments.

All told, the 2017 Harvard Healthcare Symposium was a success in opening the lines of communication between clinicians, building designers and managers and shining the light on the connection between indoor environments and patient outcomes. Stay tuned for updates about the continued dialogue on this issue and news about the 2018 symposium.

Helpful Links

2017 Healthcare Symposium Resources

Why Humidify…For the Healthcare Industry

Watch highlights from 
the 2017 Healthcare Symposium

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