Staff burnout has been a growing concern for the healthcare industry, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. When healthcare facilities don’t have adequate staff to maintain operations, the consequences can be dire, compromising patient outcomes and the ability to provide care.

In 2006, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement laid out the Triple Aim as a way to improve the health of the nation. It included improving the experience of care, improving the population’s health, and reducing the per capita cost of healthcare.

In a 2014 Annals of Family Medicine paper, Dr. Thomas Bodenheimer, professor of family and community medicine at University of California San Francisco, added a fourth aim: the need to take into account the well-being of healthcare providers as well to improve patient outcomes. Nurses, who spend more than 12 hours a day on their unit, are especially at risk.

New design resources to mitigate staff burnout

Recently, The Center for Health Design launched a toolbox of newly created content addressing staff well-being. It includes two design tools, one that provides a checklist for mitigating clinician burnout and a second focused on ideas to reduce noise, as well as eight webinars, two project briefs, and two EBD Journal Club webinars.

Two issue briefs authored by our research team, including “Burnout: How the Built Environment Supports Resilience” by The Center’s Yolanda Keys, research associate, and Ellen Taylor, vice president for research, are also featured in the new toolbox.

The briefs focus on healthcare provider burnout and how it’s impacted by the built environment as well as best practices around noise mitigation to reduce the excessive stress noise puts on care teams.

Strategies shared include work breaks, restorative break areas, outdoor views (specifically views of nature), and designs that foster social support. These interventions may include:

  • assessing the culture of the care unit to see if it fosters or inhibits care providers from taking breaks
  • repurposing rooms that support uninterrupted breaks
  • implementing policies that would facilitate exposure to the outdoors
  • incorporating spaces that facilitate collaboration and connections between care providers to help promote social support and optimize patient care decisions.


Addressing noise interruptions in healthcare facilities

Additionally, interruptions or noise can cause nurses to lose focus when engaging in high-risk interventions such as administering medication, leading to potential patient safety issues.

Though it’s impossible to completely mitigate the noise from alarms or alleviate all disruptions, policies including properly setting alarm thresholds and design solutions such as designating specific collaboration areas for staff to work together can help to reduce interruptions at other critical times.

Implementing a napping program

Another strategy to support staff is strategic napping, which has been shown to restore physical and cognitive performance, especially for care providers working the night shift when interruptions to normal circadian rhythms can increase fatigue.

A napping program supported by space to sleep safely and comfortably can contribute to better quality care and perceptions from the staff that work is less physically and psychologically demanding.

Clinicians are essential to the healthcare delivery system and should be handled with care. Supporting the care team with designs and policies that guard and contribute to their well-being is critical to providing the highest level of care. The resources in the Staff Wellbeing Toolbox on The Center’s website can help support the design industry in delivering these environments.

Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at