This year’s IIDA Power Lunch at the Healthcare Design Conference revolved around the idea of “community” and the design of healthcare settings. The event, hosted by IIDA and sponsored by Construction Specialties, featured an industry roundtable, which explored the intersections of design, patient outcomes, and community experiences.
Healthcare environments are evolving to keep up with shifting paradigms of comfort, wellness, and corporate humanity. This means that healthcare systems are reconsidering how their spaces look and feel and what they offer the communities they serve.
Here’s what the experts had to say:
Healthcare Design and Community
Organizations are fast becoming more community-driven, and healthcare facilities can be designed as community hubs. “Through intentional engagement with a broader audience of community representatives and stakeholders during the design process, as well as enhanced program offerings, healthcare facilities can become destinations for health, wellness, culture, and education,” said Edwin Beltran, IIDA, Associate AIA, IIDA International Board vice president and design principal at NBBJ.
To ensure the complementary nature of the different programs and their successful viability as destination hubs, healthcare spaces need a balanced combination of civic, sports, cultural, and health offerings. Programmatic amenities could include locally-focused retail outlets, meeting rooms for community groups and civic organizations, wellness centers, healthy-eating demonstration kitchens, food outlets, and farmers markets.
Integration can also take on the form of “blurred boundaries” between patient communities and host town communities. Environments that are developed to embody the unique cultural identity of a community are those that provide true belonging and a sense of place. An example of this could be a healthcare facility with playgrounds and parks as part of its campus design. This helps present the paradigm of healthcare spaces as favoring socialization instead of isolation.
Wayfinding and Messaging
In order for a community to feel comfortable inside of a healthcare space and become truly integrated into its built environment, designers should consider how wayfinding and messaging affect visitor experiences. Sensory elements can be utilized to make a healthcare space feel inviting and welcoming: Pictures and symbols to assist with language barriers, calming colors that take into considering visual impairment, sounds that consider the hearing impaired, and words that are easy to understand and visually accessible.
Clinical spaces should also be committed to reducing the fear and anxiety that can often accompany a healthcare visit. “Community events and use of the facilities when the community is not in need of medical assistance is one way to make members of the community feel more comfortable in the space,” said Richelle Cellini, visualization specialist at Construction Specialties. “Retail spaces, yoga classes, or coffee shops within the medical space can also help reduce fear and disorientation.”
Healthcare architects and designers must walk in the shoes of patients, families, and caregivers with empathy, though this can be challenging in a world where schedules and budgets rule our frame of thinking. To create more humane, civilized healthcare spaces, designers should remember that a clinical environment does not have to look clinical. “Designing for the senses is one of the first steps to humanizing a healthcare space,” explained Suzen L. Heeley, IIDA, executive director of design and construction at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “Through the integration of sound domes, holistic fragrances, tactile materials, and specific colors, clinical environments can become more comfortable and healing-driven.”
Embracing community means taking on new approaches to delivering services, such as working directly with members of the wider community. “Creating partnerships between health service organizations and health professionals, clinicians, patients, families, caregivers, and consumers is viewed as a fundamental precondition for effective delivery of healthcare,” said Amy Sickeler, IIDA, design principal at Perkins+Will. “Studies have demonstrated significant benefits from such partnerships in clinical quality and outcomes, the experience of care, and the business and operations of delivering care,” Sickeler explained.
The clinical benefits that have been associated with better patient experience and patient-centered care can include decreased mortality and readmission rates, and improved adherence to treatment regimes. Partnerships could look like free public health screenings, public health forums, free literature and written information, and health and wellness programs.
Rethinking the standards of a healthcare facility and the kinds of resources it can provide is important in understanding how medical spaces can better serve their communities. Healthcare facilities should be designed to provide top-notch security and function while maintaining external approachability, comfort, and visual appeal.
Healthcare designers should ask themselves: How is a healthcare facility equipped to deal with unforeseen emergencies like natural disasters? Does the facility have communal, family spaces? Does it have multiple accessible entrances? Do places that allow for relaxation and breathing room beyond the waiting room exist? “Facility resources should be closer to the point of care for the patient and not just in the lobby,” said Stasia Czech Suleiman, IIDA, principal/senior project interior designer at HOK.