News about the rising costs of healthcare is pervasive. The topic is a focus for the economy and engrained in politics. What we don’t hear as much about is the awesome purchasing power of hospitals and the resulting economic and patient care effects. According to a report from the Iowa Hospital Association, the 118 community hospitals in Iowa have an overall economic impact worth more than $6.1 billion. The study found that “for each job provided by Iowa hospitals, 2.06 additional jobs are created” (read the report here <> ). Imagine the national impact of hospitals on the entire US economy.

With such economic influence, a hospital’s purchasing power is enormous. Take, for example, the hand sanitizer dispenser. A standard, no frills dispenser retails between $10-$20. In a typical hospital, there could be hundreds of these dispensers found throughout the corridors, nurse stations, patient rooms, and waiting spaces—anywhere a person and germs may be.

Hand sanitizer dispensers are proven tools for reducing the spread of infection in healthcare facilities, among other building types. But the design of dispensers is usually boring, cumbersome, and slapped on the wall. The hand sanitizer drips, often staining the wall, and can puddle on the floor. To remedy this issue, the bulky dispenser then has a small plastic piece clipped to the bottom to catch the extra hand sanitizer. Instead of a graceful solution, another piece is added to the problem.

How can the design of hand sanitizer dispensers be improved? With so many dispensers purchased every year at healthcare facilities, how can designers and care providers collaborate to positively influence product design? How can dispensers become an integral part of the space and contribute to a safe, ordered, balanced, and beautiful interior environment?

Technological opportunities allow for the quick development and prototyping of products. Recently featured in The New York Times, 3-D printing is a hot item and is more accessible for professionals across market sectors (read the full article here <> ). A 3-D printer literally creates an object by stacking layers of material, either plastic or metal, on top of each other. Design ideas and sketches are efficiently and accurately transformed into prototypes and, eventually, consumer goods. Possibilities seem endless, limited only by the imagination.

What if collaboration between healthcare providers and designers resulted in a specialty hand sanitizer dispenser tailored specifically to address hospital needs? If that hospital were part of a healthcare system, the entire system could reproduce the design as appropriate. If the design proves to be successful, the dispenser could then be marketed, packaged, and sold throughout the community. Although a seemingly simple object, there are incredible possibilities.

Iowa Hospital Association report: <>

New York Times article: <>