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Healthcare Design: Nurturing Wellness in Hospitals


More and more, hospitals and other healthcare facilities are upping their interior design game. And it’s not about spaces that look the most beautiful or the most Instagram-worthy, either.

This move is all about the experience. According to Gillian Ryan, president and CEO of ROLD Design, “positive patient experiences aren’t created by just putting in new furniture and wall color.”

Creating an Illusion

Perhaps a more explicit example is the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Bergen. Cancer diagnoses are often devastating, which is why EwingCole’s managing principal Mary Frazier designed the facility to be a “magical environment” to help offset the clinical atmosphere and grim mood.

Hospitals should be hospitable,” Frazier says.

The treatment center is awash in natural light, thanks to massive, floor-to-ceiling windows. White, gently curving columns disappear into the ceilings, while generous armchairs create spaces that afford privacy for sensitive conversations between doctors, patients, and loved ones.

Healthcare Design- Nurturing Wellness in Hospitals | Fohlio | FF&E specification and procurement software | MSK Bergen | EwingCole Mary Frazier
Memorial Sloan Kettering Bergen. Image: EwingCole

It’s more than just easy on the eyes: The hotel-like surroundings aim, for even a few moments, to help patients forget where they are. Most major medical equipment is hidden from view, and the result, according to Frazier, “transports patients into a setting un­expected in healthcare facilities.”

Read: Healthcare Design: Spotting the Differences Between Designing Nursing Homes and Outbreak Facilities

Reducing Stress Through Supportive Design

Hospitals are, by their very nature, extremely stressful. Patients are there to be treated for disease, friends and family are there to support and comfort a sick loved one, and staff have an enormous responsibility to keep patients not just alive, but help them become well. Often, there are also time-sensitive and high-pressure situations like emergencies and operations.

Obviously, reducing as much stress as possible for everyone in the facility is crucial: Staff perform better, loved ones hold up better and are better able to support patients, and patients often recover faster.

It’s therefore crucial to provide not just for clinical needs, but for emotional well-being as well.

Supportive design, in this case, could mean reducing noise levels in order to prevent unnecessarily increasing patients’ heart and respiratory rates, or preventing them from sleeping.

Read: Healthcare Design: Three Strategies for Infection Control in Hospitals

Reducing Noise Levels in Hospitals Through Design

While designers can’t completely eliminate noise, there’s a lot that can be done to reduce it. Take layout, for example: Dawn Thornton, registered architect and senior associate of CBRE, recommends “providing easily accessible enclosed spaces near nurses’ stations to encourage ‘offstaging’ communication among staff.”

Healthcare Design- Nurturing Wellness in Hospitals | Fohlio | FF&E specification and procurement software | decentralized nurse alcoves
Decentralized nurse alcoves located outside patient rooms allow staff to be closer to patients to respond to alarms and calls quickly, thereby limiting noise. | Rendering courtesy of CBRE | Heery

Glass-walled nursing stations, workspaces, family spaces, and even patient rooms also maintain visibility while reducing noise. Creating sound-absorbing geometric patterns on walls and utilizing curved baffles also help.

Healthcare Design- Nurturing Wellness in Hospitals | Fohlio | FF&E specification and procurement software | glass-walled nursing stations
Nursing collaboration stations in Rapid City (S.D.) Regional Hospital are designed with glass-walled partitions to reduce noise on patient floors. | Rendering by ESa

Materials play a large role in keeping hospitals more quiet as well. More sound-absorptive materials are being made all the time with healthcare in mind. Washable mineral fiber acoustical ceiling tiles, crushed glass, stone wool, perforated natural wood veneers, and rubber flooring are being explored by many healthcare design firms.

Healthcare Design- Nurturing Wellness in Hospitals | Fohlio | FF&E specification and procurement software | sound-absorptive materials
A sound-absorptive perforated wood ceiling and the semi-enclosed recreational kiosks help to control noise at Worcester (Mass.) Recovery Center and Hospital | Photo courtesy of Ellenzweig

Visual cues also help lower decibel levels in order to create restful environments. A spa-like atmosphere — like a “restful color palette found in nature along with soft patterns in flooring and wall treatments” — encourages soft speaking voices, Thornton adds.

Zoning Hospitals to Encourage Wellness

Creating different zones in a hospital or other healthcare environment satisfies the human need for variety, according to Stantec’s Velimira Drummer. “Developing a varied series of landmarks within a healthcare interior provides an antidote to an institutional aesthetic, engaging building users’ emotional responses to support their wellbeing and providing visual cues for wayfinding.”

Not only that, but zoning also creates the much-needed ability to step out of a clinical environment and into a more welcoming and social one. At the Cancer Centre at Guy’s Hospital, for example, “the design concept reflects the two complementary yet different aspects of cancer care: the ‘Science of Treatment’ that houses clinical and technological facilities, and the ‘Art of Care’, which has more social and interactive areas.”

Creating common spaces such as recreation rooms, reception areas, family spaces, and play areas should create a sense of belongingness for patients, visitors, and staff. 

The very basic reason is that it’s extremely stressful to be dealing with a serious illness surrounded by strangers. Environments should, therefore, foster relationships, as studies have proven that regular and positive social interactions can do a lot to hasten healing.

Bringing the Outside In

Another proven accelerant of recovery is access to nature and the outdoors. As mentioned above, natural light is a huge factor in promoting this. So do views of the outside, interior and pocket gardens, and water features.

Healthcare Design- Nurturing Wellness in Hospitals | Fohlio | FF&E specification and procurement software | natural light and nature connections
Meyer Children’s Hospital, Florence – spaces in a fully glazed atrium create connections between inside areas and nature outside. Image Credit: Richard Johnson
Healthcare Design- Nurturing Wellness in Hospitals | Fohlio | FF&E specification and procurement software | pocket gardens
Image: Design Worldwide Partnership

Of course, authentic connections with nature are not always possible, but art and technology can help.

At the London Clinic, for example, virtual views of Regent Park are provided in the waiting area. At the Cancer Centre at Guy’s Hospital, on the other hand, “a digital art installation in the lifts gives the patient the experience of traveling from a forest floor up through the tree canopy.”

Have you designed a hospital before? What strategies did you utilize to promote wellness?

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Published Mar 25, 2020