insight • Jun 09 2022

How Design Influences the Patient Experience

The patient experience is about more than the clinical care a patient receives. It takes into account how the patient feels at every interaction, every touchpoint of their journey — before, during, and after they receive clinical care or treatment. All of these feelings are measured in patient satisfaction surveys and, as hospital CEOs know, the higher the survey score, the greater the financial reimbursement. 

Beyond the care they receive, patients are also asked questions about every aspect of their visit. From ease of way-finding, clarity of signage, wait times, cleanliness, safety, parking, and more. When you consider that patients are often scared, anxious, and uncertain about their physical health, imagine how needlessly their frustration is compounded when they can’t find their way around the hospital? Or the ER wait times are excruciatingly long? These are just a few examples of how design influences the patient experience. 

In new construction or renovation of existing hospitals or care facilities, exceptional patient experiences begin with intentional design. 

 

Intentional Design Can Improve Flow and Reduce E.R. Wait Times

The average wait time in a hospital emergency room is about 40 minutes and it can be frustrating for patients as well as care teams. In an effort to increase efficiency and patient satisfaction, the hospital at UPenn recently underwent a dramatic reimagining and redesign of their emergency room.

Designers worked with clinicians to identify the best ways to manage patient flow, their triage (or prioritization) processes, and to optimize their use of space. The result? A $1.6 billion investment that prioritizes patient health, safety, and efficiency and has dramatically reduced patient wait times. 

The newly-designed emergency room has switched from an assembly-line style of triaging patients and making patients with less urgent needs wait in valuable exam room spaces, to a system where doctors see the patient as soon as possible as the triage is being conducted. In this new flow, non-emergent patients wait in semi-private triage spaces with comfortable seating to receive treatment, or meet with a member of the care team. 

“The exam room is no longer a destination where a patient is going to sit for their whole visit. It’s rather a tool that we’ll use to treat the patient as needed,” Dr. Hemmert says. “This has been recognized as the way most emergency care is going. The new building was designed with this in mind.”

 

Excellent Design Can Improve Safety

Safety is a healthcare organization’s highest priority. Intentional design of healthcare facilities can help deliver on this brand promise. Preventing falls, slips and other injuries is vital. Patient safety, especially in the time of covid, is a key factor that patients will be mindful of at the time of their visit and also while filling out their patient satisfaction surveys.

Wayfinding is a safety consideration and another key component in the patient experience. It is also among the myriad questions asked on the patient satisfaction surveys. When patients arrive at a hospital or care facility, before they ever meet with a doctor or nurse, they are immersed in “the patient experience” and they are noticing and experiencing everything.

They are noticing the parking lot and the ease (or difficulty) with which they can find the entrance, the parking garage, the elevators, and directions to where they must go. 

They are noticing signs (or the lack thereof), and not just signs but the clarity of the signage. 

They’re noticing access and safety issues such as the availability of ramps, stairwells, elevators, handrails, lighting, floor and ground materials. Are there trip hazards such as slippery floors, gritty surfaces, or floors that are too shiny?

All of these things are outside the clinical reason for the patient’s visit; however, they all contribute to positively or negatively shaping the patient experience. 

Intentional design also comes into play in an actual patient room. Cabinets and storage where nurses and other caregivers can reach what they need quickly and efficiently can expedite patient care. And from the patient perspective, the ease with which they can use the restroom or transition from a bed to a chair not only enhances their comfort but can also greatly reduce the chance of slips or falls.

Intentional design of a healthcare facility also takes into account the non-clinical needs. Things such as trash disposal, medical waste removal, laundry, food prep, engineering, and more. 

Bags of medical waste or dirty laundry visible in common areas can cause patient unease and affect the patient’s perception of the cleanliness and efficiency of the hospital. In addition to the health concerns, imagine the patient who is nervous about their upcoming surgery only to see a bag of medical waste just outside their door. Even if their clinical procedure is flawless, how will they rate the cleanliness of their facility on the patient experience survey?

Intentional design takes into account the needs of the patient and also the needs of the facility and creates an environment where both are met without compromising the patient experience. And that’s the whole idea. Intentionally designed healthcare facilities create an environment that seamlessly blends the clinical and non-clinical aspects of the patient experience.

 

Excellent Design Begins With The End In Mind

The design of a healthcare facility has tremendous influence on the patient experience and it can have a profound impact on patient outcomes. 

Oklahoma Heart Hospital is a great example of a facility that intentionally designed their campus entirely around the patient experience. From the very beginning planning stages, they considered what their patients would need and how the design could positively contribute to good patient outcomes. 

For example, one of their patient recovery floors has distance markers of the 50 states along the hallway. As patients are increasing their mobility post-surgery, they can track how far they walked each day by noting which “state” they reached. It encourages a little competition among patients and while a seemingly small detail, this design element has both form and function by providing an attractive incentive for patients to do their daily walks to improve their health. 

When this new heart facility was being renovated, CEO John R. Harvey, MD, spoke to the importance of the intention behind the design of their facility. “As a Doctor, I have worked in many hospitals, and, in my opinion, many of the inconveniences that people face in a hospital environment are unnecessary and avoidable. So when we sat down to design a hospital from the ground up, we wanted something better. We wanted our facility to be more efficient and comfortable for the patient and their family. We wanted a stay in our hospital to feel more like a stay in a nice hotel.”

When we talk about the design of a hospital or healthcare facility, it’s important to note not only what we’re designing but who we’re designing it for and why. 

Florence Nightingale once said, “Apprehension, uncertainty, waiting, expectation, fear of surprise, do a patient more harm than any exertion.” Through a robust and intentional design of hospitals and healthcare facilities, we have a powerful way to eliminate that fear, uncertainty, and apprehension and create an environment, a setting, which delivers an exceptional patient experience.

Up Next

News • Jun 24 2022

Blending Indoor & Outdoor Design
Read Article

News • May 25 2022

Pandemic Design - Designing for the “New Normal”
Read Article

We want to build the future with you.

Generis Collective can be your single point of contact for all your property development needs- providing leadership across every stage of your project and managing all moving parts. Let’s connect and start transforming your guest experience.

Contact Us