Facility Design To Support Clinicians

In an evolving industry, healthcare facility managers are on the front lines in creating spaces conducive to the work of caregivers and their patients.

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.

Today’s healthcare system is an enormous enterprise undergoing massive change. It is simultaneously tackling multiple challenges: improving the health of populations, delivering better patient experiences, improving outcomes, and reducing costs — all without sacrificing the dedication, engagement, and well-being of healthcare professionals. However, current facility design in healthcare spaces is not always focused on supporting clinicians in their ability to meet the new demands in this new landscape.

facility design
Photo: Steelcase Health

To address these challenges, leverage new opportunities, and advance a mission of excellence, forward-facing healthcare organizations across the country are reassessing every operational aspect of their facilities and retooling their strategies for success. Faced with sweeping changes, these organizations shouldn’t overlook an asset that’s highly scalable and pivotal to success: facility design.

The Current Environment

The role of healthcare spaces in supporting clinicians should be top-of-mind now more than ever before. However, for many organizations, improving healthcare value remains a complex undertaking.

For example, rising retirement rates and fewer people entering healthcare professions has resulted in clinician shortages, creating demanding work schedules for staff and appointment delays for patients. With a care team that is also stretched thin, working in noisy and busy environments with more patients and fewer resources has led to physician burnout. Physician burnout is further complicated by the need to embrace changes in health system operations, such as the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), new technologies, and demands for increasing efficiency. Nearly half of U.S. physicians experience symptoms of burnout.

As hospitals and health systems grapple with new risks and pressures, making necessary changes while maintaining clinician sustainability is challenging. Spaces that don’t offer settings for individual focus, private conversations, or moments to reenergize are increasing the risk for costly errors, unsatisfied patients and caregivers, and staff burnout.

The Steelcase Global Report shows when spaces afford employees physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being, their potential for engagement is amplified. High satisfaction and engagement can lead to better morale, and through the redesign of spaces healthcare organizations can improve satisfaction and well-being at work.

How Facility Design Supports Clinicians

Whether updating EHRs, collaborating with colleagues, or taking an important private phone call, healthcare professionals can benefit from spaces that meet their needs. To do so, healthcare facility managers should consider the following:

  • Create cues that signal how to use the space. Carve out quiet sitting areas where clinicians can discuss patients’ treatments and health status with their families, and create semi-private zones so clinicians can move fluidly between group work and focused tasks.

    facility design
    Photo: Steelcase Health
  • Effectively support clinicians’ spectrum of work with a variety of interconnected settings. The best way to accomplish this is to plan sightlines and adjacencies carefully to afford visual proximity to patients and coworkers. By designing multiple entries and clear pass-throughs in shared spaces, healthcare organizations can support on-the-move workflows.
  • Create spaces that are easily adaptable to changing processes and priorities. With the inception of the Affordable Care Act, and adaption to new regulations, healthcare organizations are reorganizing internal priorities. As priorities change, it’s helpful if these organizations utilize movable, flexible furnishings versus permanent built-ins. Organizations that anticipate advancing technologies with an adaptive infrastructure can improve clinician workflows, and have an advantage over competitors.
  • Boost clinician well-being at work by supporting physical, cognitive, and emotional needs. Physician burnout is a growing problem that needs to be addressed by healthcare organizations. One way to support physician well-being is to include an easily accessible, well-equipped respite area for socializing, refreshment, rest, or privacy as needed.

Improving Spaces, Finding Efficiencies

When workspaces are intentionally designed to provide choices — patient-facing as well as more private settings and settings for individual tasks and collaboration — it can be a strategic asset for enhancing safety, accuracy, satisfaction, and well-being. This ultimately improves patient care and creates a more effective organization.

Research shows that organizational initiatives that improve employees’ subjective well-being also improve the bottom line: they increase productivity and engaged employees, and decrease absenteeism, turnover, and presenteeism. Healthcare organizations can and should support their clinicians and staff through the design of spaces.

Consideration in designing more supportive healthcare spaces include the following.

  • Increasingly, clinical team members alternate between collaboration and focused individual work, while the need to maintain patient surveillance remains constant. As clinicians struggle to find the best settings for their range of tasks, maintaining line of sight to patients is always key. Uninterruptible privacy is not an option.
  • Today’s healthcare is increasingly team-based. Sharing information across disciplines — both in person and via technology, including telemedicine videoconferencing — is a vital component of successful healthcare. When hand-offs are optimized and all participants are able to share observations, insights, and concerns, patients benefit.
  • Because their work is so dynamic, clinical team members benefit from a variety of “just in time” posture and workflow options. Clinicians seldom sit for long while on the job. Work settings are shared, and individuals usually don’t take time to adjust the furniture to fit their bodies and tasks. Providing choices for a range of posture and workflow preferences, such as perching on a stool or leaning at a standing-height table, assures that needs of the moment can be satisfied.
  • Moments of privacy at work can improve staff performance and well-being. Noisy team stations without areas for individual focus, private conversation or moments of personal renewal increase the risk of errors and burnout. Because each person’s privacy needs vary depending on tasks, needs, and overall frame of mind, a variety of accessible privacy options assures choices with minimal transition time from space to space, task to task, or mood to mood.

Spaces affect human behaviors and experiences. Healthcare organizations that embrace this reality — in facility design, as well as in their strategies, decisions, and cultures — are positioned to deliver greater value in a differentiated way. When spaces are intentionally designed to meet people’s intrinsic and extrinsic needs, they can improve healthcare experiences in significant ways. It is crucial for clinicians’ well-being and the organization’s bottom line that spaces support clinicians.