Reducing the incidence of healthcare-associated conditions (HACs)—a term that includes infections, falls resulting in injury, and basically anything else in which a consumer in a healthcare setting ends up worse off just by showing up—has been very high on the priority list for hospital systems over the past several years. And the good news is the efforts seem to be paying off.

In December 2016, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) released its scorecard on rates of HACs between 2010 and 2015. The preliminary estimates show a 21 percent decline during that period—3.1 million fewer incidents than would have occurred if 2010 rates had held steady.

The upshot of this? An estimated 125,000 fewer patient deaths and a savings of $28 billion in healthcare costs.

The 21 percent drop can largely be attributed to fewer incidents of adverse drug events, pressure ulcers, and catheter-associated urinary tract infections. All other infections, falls, and events combined accounted for about one-fifth of the total drop.

The report suggests that the decline, at least in part, might be due to the financial incentives created by Medicaid/Medicare; public reporting of hospital-level results; and other public and private initiatives to improve healthcare quality and patient safety. And that last part is where you—designers, architects, providers, and product suppliers—come in.

There are plenty of architectural and interior design solutions that seek to reduce falls and allow for easier, more effective cleaning to cut down on the spread of infections. Product manufacturers are hard at work on innovations in materials for textiles and high-touch surfaces. There is existing research that strongly supports the efficacy of these solutions: the antimicrobial properties of copper, silver, and even a new line of paint; the sanitizing properties of UV lighting; and more. But we need a lot more research, a lot more proof—and then we, as an industry, need to continue to shout it from the rooftops.

Because while the HAC numbers may be dropping, the overall number of incidents is still extraordinarily high. Design interventions and the types of building products specified, realistically, aren’t likely to have an effect on all kinds of HACs. But patient falls and the spread of certain types of infections? We as an industry can help that. And as this latest report shows, the payoff is significant in terms of both dollars and lives saved.

As design teams have taken on more of a consultant role in many matters (and may take on even more as the new administration starts implementing healthcare policy changes), it’s in your best interest to stay abreast of the very latest research on patient-safety design efforts and product innovations to reduce HACs. Better yet: Conduct this kind of research yourself, and share it with your peers. Persuade your clients to keep track of data that can contribute to this type of research, and share it with their peers. Talk to the manufacturers you regularly work with, vet their product claims, and work with them to conduct more research…and, yes, share it with their peers. Share it with all of us.

Click here to read the full report from AHRQ. And for an excellent discussion of some of the newest breakthroughs in products designed to reduce healthcare-associated infections, see “The Battle Against Healthcare-Associated Infections” by ESa’s Sam Burnette, from the October 2016 issue of Healthcare Design.