Insight Blog

Healthcare Design I: Focusing on Patients + Staff

There has been enormous focus on the impact of the Affordable Care Act on healthcare, which is, in turn, affecting healthcare design. A primary trend is “patient-centered care”. More and more consideration is being given to patient comfort and making the patient experience as pleasant as possible. Therefore, the following have become popular patient-centered concepts for hospitals and medical centers:

  • Increased patient privacy

  • Noise reduction methods, such as changing the material used in walls

  • More signage to help patients and visitors find their way

  • More natural light

  • Softer colors

  • Placement of art in a patient’s line of sight

  • Designing patient rooms to look more like bedrooms

Ideally, updates like these will lead to more efficient care, optimal recovery, reduced stays in facilities, and ultimately, happier customers.

Staff-centered design

When considering ways to improve overall patient care and adapt to the huge shifts in the healthcare landscape, one aspect that may not come to mind immediately is catering to hospital staff. However, as a recent article (“Leveling the Playing Field”) in Medical Construction & Design (MC&D) pointed out, quality care is achieved largely through the hospital staff’s ability to deliver it. Staff input is vital to discovering what changes should be made, as they are more familiar with the day-to-day functionality of facilities than architects and engineers.

In addition to prompting more efficient care, making improvements that benefit hospital staff can also assist in attracting and retaining quality employees. The healthcare industry today faces challenges such as a rising need for workers due to the increasing healthcare needs of an aging population, a high degree of staff turnover, and difficulty recruiting specialists.

Futhermore, changes in the healthcare industry have resulted in the expansion of systems through the acquisition of private physician practices. This has led to an increase of physician input on facility design. What are some of the areas facilities can address to improve staff conditions?

  • Better lighting.  According to a study published in World Health Design this year, “Design Characteristics of Healthcare Environments: The Nurses’ Perspective,” one of the more common complaints among staff is insufficient, fluorescent, or “institutional” lighting. Improved lighting reduces stress, improves efficiency, and can also be a safety measure, as proper lighting can cut down on slips and falls, as well as medication errors. Also, increased use of natural light in healthcare facilities can be as beneficial to staff as it is to patients. Some facilities, such as Ocean Medical Center in New Jersey, have developed outdoor spaces or courtyards where both staff and patients can have access to sunlight and nature.

  • Collaborative Stations.  According to the article in MC&D, most nurse stations are built for single-person usage. Leaps and bounds in technological advances create the opportunity for more collaborative, multi-screen stations where all of a patient’s caregivers can work together and share ideas and information.

  • Privacy.  While collaborative workspaces are extremely useful for getting things done, hospital staff still need quiet spaces to be “off stage.” Physicians working in multiple facilities may not have dedicated office space to make confidential calls, handle paperwork, or just hang a personal photo. According to an article in Healthcare Design, "A New Look At Physicians’ Workspaces," clinic design is responding with designated phone rooms, quiet rooms, and physicians’ lounges.

  • Reduced physical exertion.  Many healthcare workers are under a great deal of physical stress. Besides working long shifts, there is a tremendous amount of walking and lifting involved. MC&D suggested “decentralized, mobile nurse stations.” These “pod-like” stations would put nurses closer to patients and reduce the amount of walking required. Additionally, building related rooms close to each other saves time and energy for staff and patients.

According to a recent report from The Commonwealth Fund (a private foundation that aims to promote a high performing healthcare system), the United States ranks behind most countries on many measures of health outcomes, quality, and efficiency. To continue improving the way healthcare is received and its results, elemental changes can be made in the way healthcare is delivered. Healthcare design and construction can take into consideration the needs of those delivering the care to improve working conditions, reduce turnover, and enable health facilities staff to provide an even higher level of patient-centered care.

Sources: Healthcare Design, “A New Look At Physicians’ Workspaces,” by Christine Guzzo Vickery; Medical Construction & Design, “Leveling the Playing Field,” by Dan Lee; Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry, “How User-Centered Design Can Help Ease Obamacare Pressures,” by Shana Leonard.