This article on healthcare facilities design is contributed by Steelcase Health, a Grand Rapids, MI-based provider of healthcare spaces that studies the places that support health, and delivers insights, applications and solutions.
Nearly 70 years ago, when many existing healthcare spaces were first constructed, clinician-patient interactions were much different, as were patients’ expectations of their care experience and the technology needed to support those interactions. While the patient-centered care movement has put an emphasis on addressing the healthcare needs, preferences, and values of patients in order effectively deliver care effectively, most healthcare spaces are still designed to support a doctor-centered process.
Among the spaces that have the largest impact on patient satisfaction are waiting rooms, exam rooms, and infusion therapy spaces. Steelcase Health has conducted extensive research in these three areas using the patient-centered care movement as a lens to better understand inefficiencies and how to modify areas clinicians and patients frequent to ultimately improve satisfaction and quality and delivery of care.
Healthcare Waiting Rooms
Many patients’ experiences are less than optimal as they wait. Patients wait to meet with a care provider. They wait to learn of a diagnosis. Wait to receive information. And the places where they wait — whether for minutes or hours — are all too often unpleasant and unappealing. Waiting rooms, at their worst are designed to seat the most patients in as little room as possible and providing few physical or emotional comforts. At their best, these spaces can offer a smooth transition from physical pain and emotional uncertainty to vital information and relief.
Well-designed waiting experiences that decrease stress and promote active engagement can help improve patient satisfaction scores both during waiting and subsequent care encounters.
Optimal waiting areas:
- Decrease the number of chairs and make room for storage. Recent research shows that only 80% of occupied chairs in waiting spaces had people sitting in them — the remaining chairs held personal items or drinks, confirming decades-old research on seating preferences. By creating small group seating and accommodating storage, fewer seats are required for patients and their families — saving space and reducing financial investment while creating opportunities to deliver more patient value.
- Create “family” zones. People prefer to be separated from strangers but close to family or friends. The most efficient layout isn’t lining chairs up in uninterrupted rows. To achieve a balance of separation and togetherness, waiting rooms should be organized in zones that allow individuals and their family or friends different spaces to support their preferences and behaviors — ranging from group conversations to privately engaging with an electronic device to rest and read.
Supportive transition spaces provide spatial separation and information for patients and their companions. Spaces should accommodate a range of activity preferences, integrate technology and information sharing, and create a supportive environment. Transforming waiting into productive time makes the experience more meaningful and helps prepare patients for the next step in their journey.
Patient Exam Rooms
In order for clinicians to provide the best care possible, and for the patient to respond to it in the intended way, it is necessary to start with an optimal space for the care to take place.
Today, exam rooms must be reconceived in the context of doctor-patient interaction models to support the needs of patients, their loved ones, and the clinicians providing care. One model, known as Mutual Participation, was the focus of a study by Steelcase Health researchers and led to a new set of design principles, exam room concepts, and ultimately to new product ideas, all created to transform exam rooms into spaces that meet current needs.
These spaces are about lifestyle and behavior changes needed to control and prevent chronic conditions. The conversations between physicians, patients, and their companions require empathy, understanding, and education.
Exam rooms should:
- Support eye-to-eye conversation. Doctors, patients, and their companions need unobstructed sightlines to each other; at the same time, doctors need to be able to perform necessary tasks like charting without disrupting the connection with the patient.
- Employ clinician transition. Facilitate doctors’ ability to smoothly move between exam and consulting activities, and perform technical procedures as well as express empathy, like patting a patient’s shoulder or holding a patient’s hand.
- Consider caregivers. Accommodate patients’ loved ones as critical supporters of their care, helping the doctor understand the patient’s social situation.
When the elements of people, place, and technology are all considered, the result can be patient rooms that connect people and information effectively, empower patient healing, and support the well-being of everyone who uses the space.
Infusion Therapy Areas
Today, infusion therapy is a commonly used treatment for a multitude of diseases, including cancer, congestive heart failure, Crohn’s Disease, immune deficiencies, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Infusion therapy refers to delivering medication and nutrition directly into the veins, also known as intravenous or IV administration. This approach allows patients to spend less time in the hospital.
Globally, demand for infusion therapy is on the rise, with North America and Europe leading the way. Treatment protocols differ from region to region, but one thing remains constant: the need for treatment spaces that balance patient support and safety.
For most patients, treatment is a blurry combination of anxiety and hope, loss of control, and diminished independence. For family members, it’s marked by feelings of helplessness and stress, trying to cope with the competing and immediate needs of their loved one, other family members, and employers. For clinicians, it’s a workplace focused on patient surveillance, access to information and collaboration, and patient/family education and support.
But infusion treatment spaces today often reflect a different reality: They’re stark and cold. Furnishings are uncomfortable, hard to clean and difficult to adjust. The spaces don’t allow patients to control social interaction. They don’t provide physicians and nurses with the tools and technology they need where and when they need it. Family or friends are crowded out by medical equipment in poorly designed spaces, creating a sense of isolation when close proximity is needed most by these patients.
Infusion therapy areas should:
- Create an environment where patients can easily and safely receive treatment, move, eat, meet with people, socialize, and relax. This helps patients feel like a whole person, not just a patient. It’s not just about the recliner anymore — it’s about the total environment and experience.
- Empower patients. Provide patients control over their posture and physical comfort to help promote independence and safety.
- Establish clear sightlines between clinicians and patients. Medicine must be administered with great precision, and visual monitoring is imperative to check for side effects.
- Contain comfortable and flexible furnishings. Recliners need to be comfortable for patients during long treatments, and be easy to get in and out of. Additionally, recline controls should be on both sides of the chair and rely heavily on dexterity and strength.
Designing Change For Healthcare Spaces
With pressure mounting to deliver more patient-centered care and earn higher satisfaction scores, progressive healthcare organizations are already leveraging waiting spaces, exam rooms, and infusion therapy areas as a competitive advantage.
It’s important for healthcare facility managers and their designers to consider patient’s whole being when designing these spaces. Instead of addressing just a single aspect of a patient’s care, the whole person health model takes on a more holistic approach. Spaces designed to promote overall health and well-being and partnerships between clinicians, patients, their families, and fellow colleagues, will ultimately lead to the delivery of optimal patient-centered care.