Who she is: As part of the SimTigrate Design Lab at Georgia Tech, Zorana Matić, MArch, PhD (C), is deeply engaged in the healthcare field through several projects, leveraging her expertise in spatial analysis and mock-up-based simulation. Her research focuses on links between the built environment and health, and how design affects behavioral choices and health outcomes. Specifically, she’s spent several years researching the design of biocontainment units and co-authoring several publications on how design can influence both staff safety and patient experience in these environments.

Year in review: In 2019, Matić led the SimTigrate research team working with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, helping the organization in evaluating and refining the design of its personal protective equipment (PPE) doffing space in six biocontainment units that will go into a new bed tower planned to open in 2025. By integrating evidence, simulation, observation, rapid prototyping, and co-design with the end users, the team developed a layout that supports better staff communication, greater efficiency, and safer behavior. The work, informed by a 2015 multidisciplinary research program Matić was involved with in response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014, resulted in the white paper “Design Strategies for Biocontainment Units: Creating Safer Environments” that summarizes the years of research and communicates design best practices identified. For example, floor demarcations helped orient healthcare workers on where to stand during doffing, and color-coded zones (red/hot, yellow/warm, green/cold) indicated the risk of contamination and made it easier for staff to follow a unidirectional flow. Floor demarcation also prevented staff from inadvertently leaving the doffing area and stepping back into contaminated areas. Additionally, in September 2019, Matić co-authored a publication that underscores the role of design in supporting staff safety, “Design Strategies for Biocontainment Units to Reduce Risk During Doffing of High-level Personal Protective Equipment,” published in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases. She’s also delivered talks on the topic to further disseminate the lessons she’s learned. Meanwhile, with an expected graduation date in 2022, she’s focusing her thesis on the bigger picture of design for health, exploring how design affects behavioral choices and how individuals perceive and use health-related outdoor resources in the Atlanta area.

Industry impact: As the world continues to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns regarding the safety of healthcare workers persist, particularly on the frontlines of care delivery. The safe doffing of PPE has proven to be a critical piece of that puzzle, as Matić found in her research that’s now helping to inform design strategies for coronavirus treatment spaces. The effort illustrates how collaboration between researchers, designers, and clinicians can solve critical problems. And Matić’s work, specifically—based on Ebola, translated to COVID-19, and applicable for any infectious disease scenario—demonstrates the potential long-range value of such efforts.