updated 7/17/2006 9:03:17 PM ET 2006-07-18T01:03:17

Private rooms would be standard in new U.S. hospitals under recommendations from an influential architects' group that says building design can help curb infectious diseases and medical errors.

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Recommendations on hospital design from the American Institute of Architects are used as the basis for regulations in 42 states, and private rooms are increasingly favored by hospitals nationwide to address safety, noise and privacy issues, said Dale Woodin of the American Hospital Association.

Woodin is on a panel of the architects institute that created the 2006 guidelines, which involve adult acute-care hospitals and are to be highlighted at a Wednesday news conference in Chicago.

The panel includes doctors, hospital administrators, infection control experts, engineers and architects who voted unanimously to adopt the recommendations.

"This represents the most recent and the best thinking from a group that is solely dedicated to health care architecture," Woodin said Monday.

Less chance for mistakes
Woodin said single-patient rooms "reduce the potential" for doctors and nurses to misidentify patients, and decrease chances that sick patients will transmit disease to other patients and staff members.

"Patients are more willing to talk to their doctors if they don't feel they have an audience," said George Mills, a senior engineer at the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, a hospital regulatory group.

Mills said his group supports the panel recommendations but does not require hospitals it accredits to have private rooms for patients.

Single-patient rooms are the best way for hospitals to comply with federal privacy rules, and anecdotal evidence shows most patients prefer them, panel members say.

Faster recovery, reduced cost
By improving patient satisfaction and potentially speeding recovery and reducing hospitalization time, private rooms also can help reduce costs, said panel member Joseph Sprague, a Dallas architect.

The recommendations for new hospital construction affect patients in medical and surgical units as well as mothers who have just given birth. They don't affect newborn nurseries, psychiatric units or geriatric facilities where some patients do better having roommates.

The recommendations "certainly make a lot of sense," said Jean Przybylek, vice president of operations for women's health at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which has had only private rooms since 1999. A new women's facility at Northwestern to open next year will extend that policy to a unit for premature infants and other babies with special needs, she said.

Illinois is among states that have adopted previous design recommendations from the group and will review the new ones, said Enrique Unanue, an architect with Illinois' Department of Public Health and a panel member.

"This is a great thing for patient outcomes," he said. "Everything pointed toward doing this."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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