“When I first started, I had people ask, ‘why are you doing healthcare?’” says Jocelyn Stroupe, director of healthcare interiors at Cannon Design, ranked #2 in Interior Design's Healthcare Giants. “It was the uninteresting side of the design world. But I think that’s shifted so dramatically.”
For designers like Stroupe, healthcare will get only more interesting. The elephant in the patient room is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). By reimbursing healthcare providers for outcomes instead of services rendered—think increasing patient satisfaction and decreasing readmissions—the ACA elevates design that improves the patient experience. The resulting best practices aren’t exactly new, but they are newly important—and increasingly sophisticated.
1. Outpatient Care
For one, the ACA has encouraged the construction of smaller ambulatory care centers. Because these outpatient facilities are typically more convenient and cheaper to build and operate, they often have better outcomes for low-acuity patients. The Preston Robert Tisch Center for Men’s Health, designed by Healthcare Giant #1 Perkins+Will for NYU Langone Medical Center, is a perfect example—by locating within a Midtown Manhattan high-rise, it brings outpatient services almost literally to patients’ offices.
On the flip side, notes Lisa Gould, a principal at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, that means inpatient hospitals now house more and more acute cases. As a result, hospital rooms must balance privacy and family needs with caregivers’ ability to constantly monitor patients.
2. Workplace Design
Workplace trends are influencing healthcare too—after all, for physicians and nurses, the hospital is the workplace. Collaboration, that workplace buzzword, is now essential to healthcare design. “No more traditional doc-in-a-box rooms,” as Paul Evans of Healthcare Giant #12 ZGF Architects puts it. At the ZGF-designed Cancer Center Expansion for St. Charles Medical Center Cancer in Bend, Oregon, clinicians meet in open-plan offices or conference rooms to discuss their patients’ treatment—and contract furniture is perfect for these spaces.
Collaboration also factors into translational research, the notion that medical research should “translate” quickly into patient care. The SOM-designed Mount Sinai Hess Center for Science and Medicine houses both medical research and outpatient care; it features collaborative lounges where researchers can informally collaborate, as well as a four-story atrium where they intermix with the patients whose lives they impact—a “subliminal” reminder of their work’s importance, notes SOM design partner Mustafa K. Abadan.
3. Rethinking Hospitality
Healthcare hospitality has been a dominant paradigm for years, but now it’s shifting focus. “We’re not trying to make these spaces look like a hotel,” Stroupe says. “That was the approach maybe 10 or 15 years ago.” Now, she says, it’s more about personalization, service, and interaction with staff. That can include pre-registration, valet parking, greeting patients by name upon arrival, and self or mobile check-in—features that, by reducing wait times and putting patients at ease, typically increase satisfaction.
4. Better Materials
But the shifting hospitality approach doesn’t mean appearance no longer matters, only that performance matters too. Just look at the SOM-designed North Shore LIJ Katz Women’s Hospital and Zuckerberg Pavilion, with its elegantly wood-framed patient doors and custom casework. Evans says manufacturers are getting better and better at balancing finish quality with infection control: “The palette and opportunities to create more of a hospitality environment, and more of a soothing environment—less harsh and clinical—are at our disposal now.”
5. Integrating Nature
Research has shown that access to nature and daylight can put patients at ease and help them heal faster. As a result, more and more healthcare providers are realizing the value of integrated landscaping and views of surrounding areas. The landscape and interiors of Perkins+Will’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, for instance, overlook Boston Harbor. And Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, a cancer center designed by Healthcare Giant #8 HDR, takes daylighting to dramatic new levels.
Finally, medical technology and procedures are constantly evolving, which is why healthcare environments need to prepare for constant change. Firms like CannonDesign and NBBJ—currently ranked as Healthcare Giant #7 and the #1 most admired firm in healthcare—have experimented with prefabricated construction modules that are faster, cheaper, and safer to install. These modules help to standardize facilities and thus make them more accomodating of an uncertain future.