Health Care Design

By Rosalyn Cama, FASID

Recent research shows that interior design impacts human behavior in the built environment. Design for the health care market impacts the well-being of not only patients and their families but also of the care provider, therefore, the quality of care. The field of health care interior design typically focuses on acute care (hospitals), ambulatory (medical office buildings, or MOB's) and out-patient facilities, and long term care facilities (assisted living, skilled nursing, critical care, etc.). As the demand for alternative forms of treatment-as referred to as "complementary medicine"-continues to grow, along with the demand for community-based, in-home and at-work provision of services, the field is expanding to include other environments as well.

The primary goals of health care design, naturally, are to ensure that the built environment contributes toward improving patient health and well-being, making patients and those who care for them feel at ease, and allowing adequate accessibility and maneuverability. Not to be forgotten, healthcare facilities are also places where individuals work, and so other factors come into play, such as promoting the effectiveness and efficiency of providers and staff, reducing employee injuries, and eliminating wasteful spending. As most facilities are in use twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with high levels of abuse to the environment, maintenance and code issues are important considerations in one's successful design solution.

A major resource of information on this field, not only for designers but also for health care professionals and consumers, is The Center for Health Design in Lafayette, California. The Center engages in research but also maintains lists of resources, stories, news items and other materials concerning the relationship between quality health care and the built environment.

In 1998, the Center conducted a study of consumer perceptions of the health care environment, in conjunction with the Picker Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Three areas of the health environment were examined: the acute care setting, the long-term care setting and the ambulatory setting. Among other things, the study shows that consumers have a lot to say about the physical environment and can speak to how elements of the physical environment impact on their experience. Findings from consumer responses within all three environments revealed a similar list of important environmental factors. Consumers want a physical, health care environment that
  • facilitates connection to staff
  • is conducive to well-being
  • is convenient and accessible
  • is confidential and private
  • is caring for family
  • is considerate of people's impairments
  • is close to nature.
Clearly, designers have a crucial role to play in providing patients with an environment that will both optimize their treatment and spur their recovery.

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