Earlier this year as the World Health Organization was declaring that the countries hit hardest by Ebola—Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—had zero reported cases for at least 42 days, another infectious disease was making daily headlines around the globe: Zika virus. At times like these, it’s easy for infectious disease control to be a hot topic among healthcare providers and designers.

The problem, says Jon Crane, director of translational health sciences at HDR (Atlanta), is that once the headlines dwindle, the conversations tend to go away, too—but the threats still persist and need to be addressed. “Infectious diseases are here to stay,” he says. “Being prepared is better than not being prepared.”

Crane says that every healthcare provider is at risk for someone who’s traveled outside the U.S. and picked up a virus to walk into an emergency department or hospital. “Even if they don’t want to be the caregiver for that type of patient, they need to be able to have the intake and be able to safely hold those patients until they can be transferred to another facility,” he says.

Crane, along with coworkers Cyndi McCullough, director of evidence-based design, and Mark Fitzgerald, principle laboratory planner, recently released a white paper, “High-Consequence Infectious Disease: 10 Principles for Patient Safety.” The paper offers ideas on developing operational and facility responses for both emergency room intake and patient care biocontainment units.

Some of the principles came out of the lessons learned from the first round of Ebola patients cared for in the U.S. at Emory University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. (For more on the Nebraska biocontainment unit and design lessons learned from its use, see the upcoming May issue of Healthcare Design.)

For example, McCullough says the rigorous daily bleach cleaning took its toll on the units’ surfaces, inspiring a reevaluation of what materials are used. “It’s one key thing that I think we need to be looking at overall in healthcare because we never know when we’re going to have to convert [a room],” she says. “To prevent any kind of infection, it has to be easy to clean and the type of material that isn’t going to break down.”

Crane adds that it’s critical to provide a flexible environment where staff can provide all the care a patient may need during isolation, including simple surgeries or maternity care.

“It’s thinking through the care aspect of it and how can you deliver proper care given the fact that you have an infectious disease and you don’t want to put other people at higher risk,” he says.

For more information on the white paper, visit hdrinc.com/infectious-disease.

Anne DiNardo is senior editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at anne.dinardo@emeraldexpo.com.