Get Well Sooner? A Healthier Roommate Could Help

But the author of the study, Olga Yakusheva, a University of Michigan economist, controlled for the factors that nurses at the Connecticut hospital she studied use to assign patients to rooms, including diagnosis and specific room assignment. She found that even in a particular room at the hospital and even among patients with a specific diagnosis, those who ended up with healthier roommates fared better. (The study did not include patients who had single rooms.)

What’s more, “placing a sick and a healthy patient in one room benefited the sicker patient without ill effects for the healthier roommate,” Ms. Yakusheva said.

Had that particular hospital taken fuller advantage of this phenomenon in patient room assignments, it could have reduced total inpatient days by 900 per year, saving about $1 million, for the sample of patients the study examined.

In recent years, most American hospitals have gone another way, though. They’ve added private rooms and renovated shared ones to accommodate only one person. The amount of hospital room space per patient has doubled since the late 1980s. Naturally, that increases costs.

Many patients prefer the privacy of a single room. And some studies indicate that single rooms reduce the spread of flu and other infections, though the evidence is not conclusive. Despite the potential risks and preferences, having a hospital roommate, and a healthier one in particular, may be better than having no roommate.

There are several hypotheses for how roommate assignments affect patients’ health. A healthier roommate — particularly one with a similar condition — may be better able to transfer important self-care knowledge or even lend a helping hand, as a few studies have documented. Or, patients with healthier roommates may feel better when they observe other patients doing well, relative to those who observe patients doing poorly. Some studies have found that patient interactions…

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