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Humanizing in-hospital death: the Viewing Room

A human-centered hospital space that personalizes after-death viewing, helps ease family grief, and even improves hospital efficiency.

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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

This idea is intended primarily for hospitals in order to create sacred space for loved ones of newly-deceased and an environment that honors rather than dehumanizes the individual.

  In-hospital death can be a harrowing and unnatural-feeling experience.  Monitors, audio alerts, wires, tubes, and hospital staff may make it difficult for loved ones to process, and honor, a profound life event.  Hospital protocols  may lead nurses to rush families to leave the bedside because of a need to free up a bed for a new admission.  Even worse, families arriving late to the hospital may be escorted to the morgue, where their loved one may be pulled from a refrigerated "box" and in a body bag. 

  The concept of a separate, sacred space for loved ones to spend time with the deceased is not new, but it has not been widely implemented in US hospitals.  Perhaps death, regarded as a failure of hospital care rather than part of the hospital experience itself, is regarded as an end-point and thus disposition of the body is simply a practical matter.  Even from this perspective, though, expeditious transport of the body to the Viewing Room can free up acute care beds for new patients in need. 

  This proposal stems from a Viewing Room that we opened at the Greater Los Angeles VA about five years ago.  We specifically chose space for the room immediately adjacent to the hospital morgue, in order for easy transport both following the viewing as well as in case a family's arrival was to be delayed for some period of time.  Family's would be provided a short period of time at bedside immediately following the death, then invited to re-convene in the Viewing Room a short time later.  

  The Viewing Room itself had two entrances -- one for the family and one for the transported body, with a curtain between them permitting the body to be brought in behind the curtain.  Once in the room, the body was lifted onto a special gurney that had a beautiful fabric skirt running around the lower half, and the patient was draped with a specially embroidered quilt for the viewing.

  The room was simply but elegantly furnished, with plenty of comfortable seating, inspiring artwork on the walls, and a variety of spiritual literature available in a cabinet for those who sought it during their visit.  There was also a high-quality music system in the room with opportunity for family to choose music that honored their loved one (i.e., Spotify or another music service).  An on-call hospital representative, available 24 hours a day, was available to transport the body to the morgue when the Viewing Room visit was completed.


What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

The Viewing Room has been piloted and led to more efficient movement of the deceased out of acute hospital beds and (anecdotally) very high rates of family satisfaction with the service. It might be valuable to perform a survey of several dozen acute care hospitals to determine both the feasibility (in terms of space) and acceptability (in terms of interest) of the concept prior to taking this further.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Help with refinement of the physical design and transport process, as well as assistance in aspects that might make it more scalable.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a palliative care physician with experience as a clinician, educator, program leader, and health services researcher.

This idea emerged from

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Photo of water123

What a wonderful way to allow families say good bye with such grace. Are there any other hospitals that have these rooms?

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