Five Priorities for a Healthy China

Design Plays a Crucial Role in the Well-being of Cities, in Asia and Beyond

November 18, 2014

Healthcare Architect / Partner, NBBJ


I recently had the opportunity to participate in a salon in Shanghai, where we discussed the healthcare challenges facing an increasingly urbanized and prosperous China. In many ways, those challenges now resemble those of other leading economies like the United States.



And the country is preparing for a building boom to meet the coming demand for healthcare environments. From what emerged during the event, I remain more convinced than ever that a transformation in healthcare environments in China will come about when we reconsider the total experience of health and wellbeing. And design will play a crucial role in that transformation.



Based on our discussion, I see five attributes of next-generation care that design can bring about in China — and the West as well:

Patient Experience: The healthcare experience is really a design problem. But that experience is twofold: it depends on designing for one’s personal experience — for both patients and physicians — and on designing environments to support that experience. These aren’t separate concerns; they have to be considered together. And we know that positive interactions between people — between patients and their physicians, between clinical colleagues working in teams — lead to better care, to reduced recovery times and increased patient and staff satisfaction.

Efficiency: We have a real opportunity to design for efficiency, to allow physicians to have more of the one-on-one time that improves outcomes and increases the trust between patients and physicians. This can be achieved through Lean design, changes to clinical operations, even simply focusing resources on what will return the highest value. And people are willing to pay more for the things that bring value to their care.

Nature: The environment matters a great deal in terms of how well and how quickly a patient can heal. We have found that, when patients have access to nature and natural light, they use less pain medication and their length-of-stay decreases. We can actually measure that impact.

Flexbility: We can’t design hospitals or health systems that focus solely on the problems of today. New technology, changing clinical paradigms, disruptive discoveries in, say, genetic research or personalized medicine may — indeed, will — change the way that we think about delivering healthcare. Designing flexible facilities that can accommodate those changes is a top priority for us.

Culture: We’ve learned that successful healthcare innovation comes from a partnership between the owner, the clinicians and the designers. One can’t simply import the best hospital from somewhere else and expect it to work. To design innovations in how care is delivered, a partnership has to exist, to ensure the solution is culturally appropriate.

My vision of a next-generation hospital in China is centered on the human experience. It upholds all the positive aspects of healthy living, incorporating the best traditions of Chinese culture. It features many, many small moves that together have a big impact. When we bring those things together in the clinical environment? That’s when we’ll build a healthy China.

Banner image courtesy of Sean Airhart/NBBJ.

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