The design of a healthcare facility goes a long way towards a patient's level of comfort and perception of the quality of treatment.
Practices, like any business, need to provide a positive customer experience in order to retain patients and remain in business.
A positive patient experience can be influenced by a variety of factors, including the oft-overlooked interior design of the facility itself. Making patients feel comfortable and providing distractions in a relaxing atmosphere can go a long way when it comes to patient satisfaction, according to healthcare design experts.
An excellent patient experience starts before a patient enters a medical office, according to Jinous Rouhani, CEO of Austin Area Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Fertility, located in Austin, Texas.
"Safe and secure parking are things people don't pay attention to, but they can really break a patient. It's aggravating for a patient to have to constantly look for a parking spot," says Rouhani.
Once patients park and make their way to the facility, the opportunity for good first impressions continues with the design of the medical office, even at the front door. "Typically, offices don't pay attention to the front doors and they look very sterile at medical offices. Try to go the opposite direction and make them welcoming for the patients," says Rouhani.
The doors don't need to be top-of-the-line or cost a lot, they just need to make patients feel comfortable, according to Rouhani. "For example, our door has a homey, feminine touch, with beveled glass that is left open all day," she says.
Another challenge for practices is ensuring their facilities never look forgotten or outdated, something that a patient will notice immediately upon entering.
"If you walk into a facility that is outdated, whether it's consciously or subconsciously, your thought is that their care may also be outdated," says Kimberly Bernheimer, associate principal at PF&A Design, an architectural firm specializing in healthcare located in Norfolk, Va.
After the first impressions are out of the way, the challenge is to keep a patient comfortable during their visit, according to Bernheimer. "[The] biggest objective is to distract the patient from what they are going through. Creating a positive distraction is part of our job," says Bernheimer.
Lighten the Mood with Color
Ken Hertz, a consultant at the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), says proper lighting goes a long way in making patients feel comfortable at a practice. "Table top lighting is nice for patients. Practices should avoid fluorescent lighting as well," says Hertz.
Rouhani is another proponent of avoiding the typical, sterile fluorescent lights in the practice. "Use warm whites, they take the harshness out of the space," she says.
Joan Suchomel, senior vice president at CannonDesign, an architectural firm located in New York, N.Y., recommends using natural light where available. "Nature, natural light, and views to the outside are all calming for patients."
Another way to brighten up you practice is through bright colored paint and furniture.
Stephanie Fallon, a senior interior designer at Houston, Texas-based Identity Architects recommends avoiding too much white. "In today's design industry, we're not having white walls, white ceilings, and white floors. A fresh coat of paint can make one hell of a difference," she says.
Bernheimer says that choosing calming colors is of the utmost importance, even if that means not necessarily using the brightest ones on the palette. "We like to work with blues and greens to create a calmer atmosphere, and then we will use pops of bright color to light up the space."
Televisions are the go-to option when it comes to practice reception areas, but they are far from the only option for entertainment, and can sometimes be a hindrance, according to Suchomel. "You have little to no control over the TV as a patient. It can be very stressful for some patients. Maybe you don’t want to watch 'Maury Povich.'"
One thing a practice can do to cater to patients averse to televisions is have a well-placed sound system. A quality sound system will prevent televisions from interrupting patient conversations. "The speakers we use are directed at a certain area of the waiting room, so as not to disturb anyone who does not want to hear the TVs," Says Suchomel.
In lieu of televisions, Suchomel recommends focusing on having plenty of relevant reading material. "Be sure you have reading material that is current and either entertaining or educational. I've been to offices that have magazines from the 70s, and that is not a good look."
Nowadays, patients are providing their own entertainment, constantly staring at their cellphones, making free Wi-Fi, and plenty of childproof outlets in the waiting room more important than television, according to Hertz. Practices can also use the waiting room for an opportunity to have patients fill out surveys or learn more about their condition using iPads.
If it's a pediatrician or family physician's office, there are a plethora of options to keep children busy. Bernheimer suggests having something that is visually interactive to capture their attention. "One project we did was a bench that would change colors when touched. Children could sit, touch, and play with it and it would distract them and keep them entertained," says Bernheimer.
Fish tanks, art work, and plants can provide distractions for young patients of all ages, something that Bernheimer says, is also important. "Because of the amount of age groups [pediatric facilities] handle, the first thought for some is to go to caricatures like SpongeBob and Disney characters. I don’t think you need to cater to specific age groups, I think there are a lot of ways to interact with various ages and also have a space that adults can enjoy."
So, where does the inspiration for medical office design come from? It can come from a variety of places, according to the experts, with one common denominator being the website Pinterest.
"I am an avid user of Pinterest," says Fallon. "Anytime I see something I like I try to Google and pin it because it's an easier way for me to organize my thoughts." Practices should listen to any feedback they receive, and draw inspiration from their patients when possible. "Small practices with limited budgets can call on patients for assistance by forming patient advisory panels," he says. Along those same lines, Suchomel recommends putting yourself in the shoes of the patient population you are serving and asking yourself what makes them feel comfortable.
Rouhani's clinic drew design inspiration from spas. "I went to some well-known spas in the area and took notes. That gave me a lot of ideas and did not cost me anything," she says. Some of the ideas she got include calming music and scents that are emitted throughout the facility.
Suchomel implores practices to make sure the areas where patients wait do not look or feel like a bus station, and more like a fancy hotel lobby.
"If a waiting room looks like a nice hotel lobby, it says that you really want the patient there," she says. "How a patient feels about the facility they're in is so important."