Carson Design Associates Blog

New Interior Design Solutions for Healthcare Spaces

AUTHOR: Carson Design Associates - Indiana   POST DATE:

As designers, we are required to record a certain number of CEUs (continued education units) each year. These could be events, online courses, meetings, certifications, etc. We do this to stay up-to-date on industry news, educated on changes, and learn from the experts.

I recently attended an event put on by Steelcase Health titled, “Time for Change: New Solutions for Healthcare Spaces.” At the event, Steelcase researchers presented key insights from 18 studies involving 15,000 hours of observations in the healthcare field. The studies focused on the wellbeing of people, both professionals and patients.

The presenter, Joey Schihl from Steelcase, stressed that whenever he speaks with healthcare networks and professionals, he asks them, “Where does the healing begin in your facility?” The answer is, the healing should begin when you walk in the door. Good design should be implemented holistically. No space or role should be overlooked; everyone involved from provider to patient to partner should be considered and included.

So the question becomes: Can the places where healthcare happens improve our experience and lead to better health?

Fast Facts on the healthcare industry:

  • The U.S. spends over $3 trillion annually on healthcare.
  • 187,000 people die from medical errors and hospital-acquired infections each year, which is the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • 60 percent of the U.S. population fails to meet baseline metrics of good health.
  • 1 in 3 patients think providers do not spend enough time on their care.
  • Top challenges faced by healthcare professionals include: total cost management, revenue generation health outcomes and patient/staff satisfaction.

“We’ve created this expectation for healthcare professionals to take care of us, when, in fact, we’re not supporting or encouraging them to take care of themselves.” — Schihl

The industry is shifting toward a need for better design that takes care of the patients’ needs, while also creating an environment for healthcare professionals to take care of themselves. With these facts in mind, Mr. Schihl then presented two significant design principles that Steelcase recommends implementing to combat these challenges:

Design Principle 1: Humanize, Empower, Connect and Design for the Human Factor.

“Healthcare has shifted from process-driven to experience-driven. Its focus is the human factor.” — Schihl

new-interior-design-solutions-healthcare-spaces-2 Graphic courtesy of Steelcase

Healthcare should design for the human factor, and strive to connect the partners, patients and providers. Additionally, successful healthcare includes family members or other support persons as information sources, patient advocates and care partners. Providing accommodation and amenities for these people helps ensure they can stay with the patient and be comfortable.

Much of Steelcase’s research was based upon this question: How do we integrate technology without breaking the communication barrier? That’s where the second design principle comes into play.

Design Principle 2: Integrate Experiences by Connecting People, Place and Technology.

In the healthcare field, these “experiences” mainly take place in exam spaces, workspaces for clinicians, patient rooms, oncology treatment spaces and waiting spaces. Here’s one of the examples Steelcase gave for redesigning how people experience healthcare:

Example: Waiting Places

Observations of Current Waiting Places:

  • Empty, wasted time
  • Single-purpose space
  • One room: chairs crowded in rows, limited choices
  • No technology
  • Few outlets, laces for personal devices
  • Uncomfortable, unappealing
  • Few diversions

Key Insights from Research

  • Technology empowers meaningful waiting.
  • People naturally seek separation from strangers and proximity with family while waiting.
  • Active, productive waiting calls for a variety of environments.
  • Physical and emotional comfort is important when waiting.
  • Waiting is an ideal opportunity to educate people on good health.

Practical Applications for New Waiting Places

  • Walkstations.
  • Individualized cubbies with iPads and comfortable stools.
  • Coffeeshop-styled booths, tables, and chairs.
  • Lounge area with chairs, couches, tables, etc., with sectioned off areas for families or groups of loved ones.
  • Many power outlets conveniently places throughout the space.


Photo courtesy of Steelcase

Healthcare is a fascinating field for me as an interior designer because it’s a complex puzzle, involving lots of codes and regulations, and requires a great deal of problem solving. The field is currently going through a big shift from being a generic institution to a new realm of opportunities for designers. There is so much potential to be a part of this world, a part of the healing process, and have an indirect effect of the lives of other people.

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