Design for the Future of Healthcare: Keeping the Conversation Going

This post was contributed by DLR Group.

In November 2016, IIDA hosted a “Power Lunch” at the Healthcare Design Conference. The 90-minute event, sponsored by Herman Miller Healthcare, featured small group discussions facilitated by healthcare design experts who covered the latest and greatest trends influencing healthcare design. Virtual visits, bed-less hospitals, mindfulness, the patient experience, and safe workplaces were among the topics of conversation at this well-attended event for design professionals.

Here’s what the experts had to say:

Design Philosophies and Approaches

Edwin Beltran, IIDA, Associate AIA, Design Principal of NBBJ, Vice President of IIDA

Over the last two decades, a well-documented body of knowledge has begun to propel the discussion of design within healthcare environments as an influential factor aiding the healing process. The philosophies discussed covered a wide spectrum from lean design as a design-thinking approach to inform and influence organizational and operational models, to approaches that seek to enhance the patient experience and the humanization of what would otherwise be an institutional environment.

Alternative medicine and healthy eating programs were also discussed as influential elements that can inform design thinking in more holistic, comprehensive, and inclusive ways, particularly in an era where healthcare is trying to tip the scale from a heightened focus on diagnostic medicine to a more rebalanced emphasis on both preventive and diagnostic care.

The lessons from alternative design paradigms such as hospitality and retail were also addressed, especially because of their keen understanding of and adaptable responsiveness to the markets’ shifting demographic forces. “In an environment where experience is highly valued, understanding the needs, wants, and priorities of those consumers will allow healthcare systems and their environments to remain relevant and attract a loyal customer base,” said Beltran.

Sustainability, Mindfulness and Wellness

Amy Corneliussen Sickeler, IIDA, CHID, LEED AP BD+C, Design Principal, Perkins + Will

We can’t talk about designing what’s next in healthcare without covering sustainability, mindfulness, and wellness. “Our discussion centered on designers improving mindfulness within project environments,” said Sickeler. Listening to understand and empathizing with clients and patients puts designers in the right frame of mind to deliver solutions that elevate the environments. Incorporating wellness into spaces instead of designing them outside of a project includes lighting, acoustics, visibility, air quality, and views to nature.

A Safe and Humanizing Workplace

Aneetha McLellan, IIDA, NCIDA, LEED AP BD+C, Healthcare Leader, Principal, DLR Group

The opportunities for design solutions to impact both lean operational processes and the patients’, caregivers’, and families’ experiences must be a priority. “The human aspect of healthcare has to remain at the forefront of design that responds to the rapidly changing healthcare model we are facing today,” said McLellan. The small group reached consensus that collaboration from the top down and the bottom up is the key to producing innovative solutions that offer the adaptability and flexibility to ensure all users have safe, efficient, and inspiring environments for healthcare.

The Experience Equation

Phyllis Goetz, EDAC, National Director, A&D Healthcare, Herman Miller Healthcare

What is the primary source of design impact? Is it technology? Personalized medicine? Or, is it an organization’s culture that stands out? “We all felt strongly that technology upgrades, operational adjustments, and organizational culture changes are three ways to leap frog the patient experience and build trust,” explained Goetz. “Technology has changed the nature of healthcare interactions and now the space needs to adapt to accommodate new and changing technologies.”

Planning and Care Models

Tatiana Guimaraes, Assoc. AIA, Senior Associate, Perkins+Will

With a better understanding of population health, owners are relocating healthcare environments to serve patients conveniently. Dealing with serious medical cases in an outpatient setting was at the heart of this discussion about micro-hospitals, bed-less hospitals, and free-standing emergency departments. This group was in agreement about one thing: The model for healthcare is changing – and it is changing rapidly. “Do designers have a role in helping healthcare providers educate their customers about the levels of acuity for emergency departments or the appropriate care for the ever-growing behavioral health needs?” asked Guimaraes. It is crucial to provide clarity of what level of care these new centers are providing. Designers have an important role in this discussion as trusted advisors who can help balance the operational needs of efficiency with patient and staff experience.

Designing for Performance and Resilience

Jocelyn Stroupe, IIDA, ASID, CHID, EDAC, Principal, Cannon Design

Whose responsibility is it to know the science behind the cleaning products and their effect on the furniture and finishes throughout the building? “More importantly, how can the design community help owners with this costly problem?” asked Stroupe. Solutions shared in this lively discussion included the importance of understanding and sharing the science behind cleaning products’ effects on materials; knowledge of the specific cleaning products used by a facility; using mock-ups for maintenance testing, training and procedures; and using modular products that provide flexibility and lower replacement cost.


DLR Group is an integrated design firm delivering architecture, engineering, interiors, planning, and building optimization for new construction, renovation, and adaptive reuse. Their promise is to elevate the human experience through design. This promise inspires sustainable design for a diverse group of public and private sector clients; local communities; and our planet.

Featured image: 2016 Healthcare Interior Design Competition winner in Ambulatory Care Centers – Medical Office Building Public Spaces Swedish Edmonds Ambulatory Care Center, Edmonds, Washington, by the firm NBBJ, Seattle, Washington.

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