Our healthcare system is facing a crisis of epic proportions. While on one hand, we boast cutting-edge technology and excellence in delivering healthcare service, the system is complex and chaotic, not to mention costly. The problem is that today’s healthcare system has roots in the period marked with infectious diseases, trauma, early technological breakthrough, and the rise of systematic medical education. By today’s standards, it’s huge, unwieldy, and not agile enough when faced with current challenges. If we add other problems that the industry is facing, such as funding and human resource deficit and the pressure to reduce carbon emissions, it’s clear we need to reconfigure our primary and secondary care medical facilities.
Finding the way
Already incorporated in hospitals and retail flooring designs, wayfinding includes using floor patterns, designs, and colors to guide people throughout large facilities. Due to the specifics of the hospital setting such a flooring needs to be durable to withstand spills and easy to clean. While some designers prefer colors on polished concrete, others would use vinyl flooring, mixing and match wood and tile-looking patterns.
The elaborate use of art
Art can add elegant and more humane touches to traditionally sterile environments, so landscape paintings aren’t uncommon in many exam rooms and corridors. However, now it’s used more than ever. Instead of just hanging prints, entire spaces are being designed around intricate artwork pieces. Necia Bonner, a Senior Associate and Director of Healthcare Interiors at Kirksey Architecture in Houston says that art is invaluable for giving patients something on which to focus and meditate.
A term that blends ‘residential’ and ‘commercial’ has come to denote the idea of incorporating traditionally home-like elements into commercial spaces, in this case, healthcare facilities. A trip to the doctor causes enough discomfort already for many people, so by creating a home-like aesthetics, designers are hoping to make patients feel more at ease. Elements like comfortable sofas and hardwood-look flooring can bring a lot of home atmosphere to a hospital setting.
The emphasis on natural lighting and views that have been widely incorporated in the old hospital design has given way to artificial lighting and ventilation systems, often double- or triple-backed up by emergency lighting and power generators. However, recent extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina showcased the lack of resilience in modern medical infrastructure. In anticipation of more frequent extreme weather events in the future, hospitals need to be prepared to deliver essential medical and public health services, with on-site renewable energy systems, durable and energy-efficient operating room lights, independent water storage, and flexible treatment capabilities.
Versatile waiting areas
The seating comfort and design elements aren’t always the priority in the areas where family and friends are waiting for news about their loved ones. Luckily, we see less of cold ‘bus stop’ seat pods. Modern waiting rooms should include flexible seating options that can be easily rearranged or moved around to accommodate the whole family, mother and child, a single visitor, etc.
Kaiser Permanente La Habra Medical Office Building in La Habra, California features touchscreen displays that allow patients to check-in when they arrive at the facility. Upon checking in, they’re given wait-time information, as well as digital forms that should be filled before an appointment. These kiosks not only reduce the need for receptionist staff but also help patients who’re too anxious to talk to someone or have auditory difficulties.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report than one in 25 patients in the US contracts a healthcare-associated infection every day. To prevent these cases, medical facility designers often use antimicrobial materials or coatings on fixtures and surfaces. For example, copper finishes are known to naturally kill E. coli, the influenza A virus, adenovirus, and even some strains of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, so they are often used for door handles. Even glass, ceramic, and steel surfaces can be coated with photoactive pigments that kill microbes when exposed to artificial or natural UV rays.
More natural light
As a part of emerging biophilic designs in commercial spaces, patients and their families can benefit from more natural light provided by floor-to-ceiling windows, glass curtain walls, and skylights. Not only do these reduce the energy requirements, helping to bridge the carbon gap, but also improve patient and staff moods. A recent article in the research journal Microbiome revealed that exposure to sunlight can be a natural disinfectant, killing some of the bacteria found in house dust.
To meet the latest challenges and the healthcare demands of the aging population, hospital facilities need to rethink what their spaces look like and feel. Apart from solving functional issues, these trends are mainly focused on improving patient comfort and relieving anxieties.