Engaging patients through design
Award winners create ‘environment of healing’
Now in their 29th year, Modern Healthcare’s Design Awards have chronicled the industry’s pursuit to define, design and create the ideal healing environment. And, according to one of this year’s judges, the strongest entries in this year’s competition are already far along on that journey.
“The idea is that care of the patient goes beyond the acute episodes and it now involves social support and educational support in a nontraditional, holistic way,” said James Bicak, vice president of facilities, engineering and hospitality services at Sinai Health System, a safety net provider in Chicago. “The best projects illustrate how they incorporated that into their thinking, planning and architecture. They all talked about engagement—not just patients and staff—but the whole family. The difference was in how they executed it.”
Awards judge Nicholas Tejeda, CEO of Tenet Healthcare Corp.’s Doctors Hospital of Manteca (Calif.), agreed. “I viewed the entries through three different lenses: form, function and creativity. The best projects integrated function with the environment outside their walls and created an environment of healing.”
He said the best designs feature spaces that “felt open, but connected,” and put caregivers close to the patient without being intrusive. Tejeda said all the entries were well done and only a few degrees of difference separated the top performers from the other contenders. “It shows clear evidence that organizations of all types—and their architectural partners—are taking steps to put patients and caregivers at the center of the facility.”
Bicak said the concept isn’t to make hospitals more like hotels. He agrees with former CMS Administrator Dr. Donald Berwick, who has argued that such an approach—which started to gain traction about six years ago—doesn’t work. That’s because no matter how hard staff might try to make patients feel like guests and no matter how many hospitalitytype amenities hospitals provide, patients would still rather be somewhere else. Instead, Berwick said it’s the doctors and nurses who are the guests in patients’ lives. Bicak said the top designs promote this feeling.
Contest entries were evaluated on design excellence, functional utility, flexibility, and response to patients and family. The projects that best reflected these criteria were the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, a cancer-treatment center in Sydney; and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, a Partners HealthCare facility in Boston. Both projects won an Award of Excellence, the highest designation in Modern Healthcare’s Design Awards.
Owensboro (Ky.) Health Regional Hospital received an Honorable Mention, the second-highest award.
Three projects won Citation awards. They are Bridgepoint Active Healthcare, a continuing-care and rehabilitation center in Toronto; Nueva Expansión Hospital Observatorio, an inpatient tower project in Mexico City; and the University of Arizona Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Pavilion and Crisis Response Center in Tucson.
Cancer centers are frequent winners in the Design Awards and this year is no exception. The centers—along with children’s hospitals—tend to attract sicker patients with longer stays or more frequent visits. Designers of these facilities make extra efforts to de-institutionalize the environment and add positive distractions while striving to remove anything that can add to patient stress.
Natural light has been emphasized in recent years, but there’s more to it than cladding a hospital with glass. Bicak admired how the Chris O’Brien project uses a nine-story central atrium to infuse the building with sunlight.
“It didn’t shut the world off, but it still offered a sense of safety and enclosure,” he said. “It offered plenty of natural light without making people inside feel exposed.”
The best projects, Bicak said, were able to “execute engagement and functionality” while reflecting the local environment with their use of materials and approach. This included projects in cold climates, deserts and on waterfronts. “Rather than introduce something exotic, there is a strong desire to let people understand that these facilities are in their community,” he said. “They make the statement that this is a community resource.”