A Quick Tour of Hospital Interior Design

 Hospitals  are an unusual building type, aren’t they? They never close. That’s right – they’re open 24/7/365! This is fortunate for all of us, because when we need a  hospital  and its services, one is always there for us. It is a dynamic environment and one that people often experience when they are in their most vulnerable state.

In today’s  hospitals , patients are more acute than ever. Staff is overworked and stressed. Money is tight. There are high expectations for the latest medical equipment. Attracting and keeping staff is a challenge. Competition is fierce.

How can you keep up with these challenges, continue to grow your organization, and be sure it is relevant to your end users’ needs? By making the most of your facilities.

A  hospital  environment can and should play a role in helping to put people at ease. Often we refer to creating a “healing environment.” While we know that no environment can heal anyone, it can support the healing process. Let’s take a look at how interior design can affect everyone’s  hospital  experience in a positive way.

When patients and visitors arrive at your facility, think about how they find their way around. For starters, these people are often stressed, so trying to find their way in a large and often confusing environment adds more stress to the situation. Many  hospitals  have expanded over the years and have added more floors or new buildings to the mix, creating a maze.

As a result, wayfinding is an essential part of creating a welcoming environment, and interior design can help support it. Creating visual cues with artwork or flooring materials – or perhaps something like a water feature – can be more effective than signage in assisting with wayfinding. For example, you probably wouldn’t forget that you walked past a statue of a life-size giraffe or a large image of an indoor waterfall, as opposed to a sign pointing you in a particular direction.

Let’s move on to the patient rooms, and let’s imagine that you are the patient. One feature I’d like to see more often is an “art cart.” Here’s how it works: After you are admitted to your room, a volunteer comes in with a cart that has a dozen or so framed pictures on it. They show you the pictures and ask you which one you would like to have hanging in your room while you are there. It’s a great way to make you feel valued and gives you some control of your space while hospitalized. It is certainly more healing to look at artwork you enjoy rather than something that isn’t your taste, especially given the multiple patient populations that will be using the space.

There is no doubt that a connection to nature can provide a positive distraction. Studies have shown that patients typically heal faster when they have a beautiful view. They may even require less pain medication. Along these lines, having a healing garden somewhere on the  hospital  grounds that people can explore provides a distraction that can be both therapeutic and nurturing.

Next, there’s the furniture in patient rooms and throughout the  hospital . Think about it: When you consider that most business settings are open only five days a week for eight or nine hours per day, it’s quickly apparent that  hospital  furniture receives the equivalent of three years’ worth of wear and tear in just one year. You must be sure furniture warranties cover 24-hour use.

Material selection is also important. Consider furniture fabric, for example. That gorgeous upholstery you love may not be appropriate for the intense wear it will get. Before you make your fabric selection, there are other considerations: Will bleach be used for cleaning? Are there inherent antimicrobial features in the fabric? Is it rated for heavy commercial use using the double-rub Wyzenbeek abrasion test?

Other materials – such as wallcovering, flooring, and furniture finishes – must be durable enough to withstand constant use and be maintained. In addition, the maintenance must occur while the facility is open, as there is no “down time” for a  hospital .

Let’s not forget the waiting areas. It’s important to offer different options for users of a waiting room, where visitors can spend hours waiting for test results or surgical outcomes. Having the ability to select from several types of areas, indoors and sometimes outdoors, can help reduce stress. Some people like quiet, some like television, some like to be around others to commiserate with – and these needs may change from hour to hour. These options offer visitors a subtle way to be in control during a time in which they have very little control.

A wonderful way to add warmth to waiting areas is to create a space for a fireplace. It creates a beautiful setting where visitors can gather, relax, and enjoy a respite from what’s happening around them.

And what about your  hospital’s  food? Wouldn’t it be great if the cafeteria food was so delicious that people in the area actually thought about going to the  hospital  for a good meal? It could happen – at least I hold out hope that it could happen! It would be so unexpected and wonderful to approach designing a caf√© with the goal of having it be a true restaurant, rather than just supporting  hospital  staff, patients, and visitors with mediocre food and ordinary ambience.

I encourage you to dream big! I have touched on only a few interior design possibilities to make your  hospital  warm and inviting. Many more things can and should be done. Collaborate with other design professionals, engage  hospital  leadership, and seek input from the community to gain support and involvement. Through carefully planned interior design, your facility can go from one that’s ordinary to one that’s truly extraordinary… a place that more effectively serves everyone’s needs.

By Mary Bamborough, IIDA