The Re-Socialization of Patient Care

True Patient-Centered Care Requires a Holistic Approach to Meeting a Patient’s Physical, Mental, Spiritual and Social Needs

October 28, 2019

Healthcare Partner, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This essay was originally co-authored by Rich Dallam and Ryan Hullinger for the December 2018 issue of A+U. It is reprinted here with the permission of the publisher.

Healthcare has seen a widespread shift in focusing on the patient experience. While this encompasses many, sometimes competing, priorities, for NBBJ a major concern is the social aspect of care. Hospitals today are increasingly building single-patient rooms to reduce infection and improve the patient experience; however, true patient-centered care requires much more than maximizing comfort: it requires a holistic approach to meeting a patient’s physical, mental, spiritual and social needs.

This approach brings many different clinical specialties — physicians, nurses, mental health professionals, dieticians, physical therapists and more — together to work for the patient’s benefit. As a result, examination and patient rooms are frequently expanding in size, even as cost concerns drive healthcare providers to reduce square footage wherever possible.

To accommodate these diverse specialties without inflating space needs and construction costs, NBBJ has adopted rapid prototyping in the planning of examination and patient rooms. This process engages clinicians, patients even cleaning staff to role-play within full-scale mockups of a proposed room, and then to quickly reconfigure and iterate the layout to not only better accommodate staff workflows, but also to holistically meet patients’ needs.

In an April 2013 workshop with the Canterbury District Health Board in Christchurch, New Zealand, rapid prototyping aimed to design a multi-patient room that would improve healing by increasing socialization amongst both staff and patients, while still meeting contemporary needs for privacy and infection control. NBBJ is now using three-dimensional scanning to import physical mockups like this into digital models — a process referred to as digitally augmented rapid prototyping — which enables designers to document, analyze and make adjustments to a layout in real time and arrive at solutions faster.

Working with Native populations — particularly in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, in addition to the Maori of New Zealand — challenges the prevailing notion that de-socialized, private patient rooms are always the best solution. In tight-knit Native communities, the social aspect of a person’s well-being is tied to their cultural identity. That’s why several integrated healthcare clinics designed by NBBJ for Alaska Natives and the Umatilla people of eastern Oregon are organized around a central gathering space, where people can connect and support each other through their healthcare journeys.

Lessons from this work with Native populations are now informing other projects, by finding new ways to incorporate patients’ families in the healing process. This has long been done, and amenities are continually improving, but new design concepts take this further by enabling the patient room to flex throughout the day to accommodate work, socializing, family meals and overnight guests — allowing daily life to continue even during an extended hospital stay.

For times when families are unable to join their loved ones in the hospital, NBBJ is now prototyping an augmented reality patient room that will enable them to be virtually present. The concept utilizes projection mapping and surround sound to create an immersive, 3D environment customized to the fixed perspective of a patient lying in bed. With this technology, the patient room can virtually disappear, replaced by a live view into the home that allows patients to remain connected to their families. This technology can also create immersive natural environments, as exposure to nature — even if only simulated — is proven to reduce stress and help people heal faster.

Like digitally augmented rapid prototyping, the augmented reality patient room utilizes the newest design tools and features. Most importantly, however, that technology is always employed in the service of increasing social connections and improving the human experience.

The potential — and challenge — of integrating new technology into the patient room suggests a new frontier for patient care: flexibility. When social demographics and technology are undergoing massive changes, too quickly for fixed infrastructure to keep up, how can we design an environment for rapid adaptation? Only when healthcare environments are flexible enough to keep pace with our evolving communities, as the ways in which people live and socialize inevitably shift, will we truly be prepared to provide the healthcare of the future.

Banner image courtesy Benjamin Benschneider/NBBJ.

All other images courtesy NBBJ.

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