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While employing a few different furniture solutions across an organization will usually fulfill most people’s needs and save facility executives time and money, there are some circumstances where it’s necessary to customize specific furniture. Health care is one market where choosing the appropriate furniture is especially important.
There are numerous areas of health care facilities where systems furniture is needed, including waiting rooms, exam rooms, administrative offices, lounges, nurses’ stations and conference areas. In some of these, such as administrative offices and conference areas, most of the general advice on systems furniture applies. In health care areas that are open to the general public, however, there are other considerations to take into account.
Perhaps the biggest aspect of health care spaces that affects systems furniture is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), a federal law that protects the privacy of personal health information. HIPAA makes acoustics an important consideration for systems furniture in health care. “Space is at a premium and privacy is a huge factor in designing work spaces because of HIPAA,” says Spencer. “Nurses are talking to people in an open area or in close vicinity to someone else. How do you manage that privacy?” Furniture panels with high sound-absorbing and -blocking levels can help achieve some degree of speech privacy.
Seating in public spaces and patient rooms in health care facilities should be chosen carefully. To accommodate various sizes of people and people with varying disabilities, at least three different types of seating should be available in a typical waiting room, Vickery says. Armchairs, lounge chairs and two-seat sofas are typical. In addition, having arms and backs on seating is important to make it easier for seniors or those with disabilities to get in and out of chairs. To further accommodate getting in and out of seating, a minimum seat height of 18 inches is necessary for the general population, says Vickery. That height is not mandated, but it is an industry standard that most manufacturers adhere to, she says. There is also a growing market for bariatric seating that can accommodate obese patients.
When specifying furniture in patient spaces, be sure to use manufacturers who have experience in health care furniture. “We find non-health care vendors trying to sell their products for health care applications,” says Vickery. “Some of the unique qualities in health care furniture are moisture barriers on the cushions and removable cushions so chairs don’t have to be reupholstered.” Other pieces such as sofa sleepers, recliners and gliders are used heavily and must be sturdy and constructed with these special considerations in mind.
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