As a healthcare architect, I’m frequently asked about how design can improve care, especially patient-centered care (that is, the idea that patients are more engaged and see better results when their own values and desires are taken into account). It’s a great question, but many assume it applies only to the time one spends in the hospital. In reality, we have to shift patient-centered care and design away from this episodic thinking — away from merely the interaction between patient and caregiver — and think more broadly.
Wellness is much more than the absence of disease. At the urban scale, it affects education, energy, sustainability, housing, transportation and many other issues, in addition to healthcare access. Many cities are beginning to realize this, like Detroit, where medical centers and universities are partnering to encourage healthy living and urban revitalization. Or Pittsburgh, where restored waterways and walkways around the rivers’ edges invited economic development, recreation and a safe place to exercise. Now it’s practically a different city. When health leaves the hospital and applies to the entire city, that will be a major shift.
Even within traditional care environments — hospitals and clinics — there’s an opportunity to reimagine healthcare design and planning. Think about the patient room: right now a lot of great design is going on there, in terms of family space, light, efficiency, enabling clinicians to do their job. Many even look like hotel rooms. But what if we took a different point of view? What if we thought about the patient room as a classroom? That is, as a place where information is transferred, where clinicians educate their patients about their recovery, about managing chronic conditions, about living healthy lifestyles when they leave the hospital and enter the world. I imagine it would lead us to design patient rooms quite differently.
We already know that good design enables efficient, effective care: it reduces length-of-stay, it improves staffing, it enables clinicians to perform at their best, it helps people heal. Healthcare designers should absolutely continue to perfect these outcomes. However, now is the time for design to also enable people to live at their best out of the hospital, at home and in the world.
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