Reducing aggression in emergency department waiting rooms

Hames Sharley’s Research team recently discovered a potential link between aggressive behaviour in Emergency Departments and spatial design, paving the way for a re-think of how these spaces are designed for clinicians, patients, visitors and the broader community.

The Reducing Aggression in Emergency Department Waiting Rooms study took a deeper look at the role ‘place sensitivity’ may have in unwanted behaviours from visitors and patients, after conducting research into aggression and violence in Australian emergency departments during 2022.

Hames Sharley Head of Research and Development Dr Emil Jonescu said the study was an eye opener and could highlight the true power of inclusive design in real terms for Emergency Departments in Australia.

“The study essentially focused on developing a deeper understanding of the potential relationship between design and people’s behaviours in an Emergency Department setting.

“In particular, we considered the modern neurodiversity spatial design approach and its ability to discourage and restrict unwanted behaviours.

“Foyers and waiting areas in hospitals are critical interfaces that influence interactions between clinicians and the community, comfort, activities, productivity, and community sentiment, but they can also be high-stress environments that lead to aggressive behaviour.

“The environment and genetics both play a role in shaping behaviour, and a multifaceted approach may be necessary to address the likelihood of aggressive behaviour as well as harness the opportunity to better support patients and visitors,” he said.

Dr Jonescu said that the study highlighted the growing awareness of how critical designing for neurodiversity was.

“It has been suggested that approximately 5-16% of the population has some form of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and that 18% of the population are neurodiverse, which implies that their sensory processing is likely to vary, and they would react differently to daring stimuli within the built environment.

“In our design community, we’re starting to fully grasp the implications of this for both the individual and the community – we all process our environment through different filters, which then determines what we perceive and how we respond.

“This means people may respond differently to the same scenario, because of their unique life experiences and context. In the case of our Emergency Departments, what may be confronting to one person may be of no concern or even maybe comforting to another.

“While we should consider this for all design contexts, studies such as these highlight the importance of designing for neurodiversity in particularly high-stress environments, such as Emergency Departments,” he said.

This study follows a series of studies investigating future design possibilities for Australia’s health industry. This includes a recent study into the opportunity to enhance the design of modern-day Intensive Care Units to reduce noise, and in turn, better support the emotional and physical healing of our most vulnerable patients.

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