By Muhsin Lihony, Director of Healthcare at LPA
Traditional hospital high-rise towers are behind us. Today’s healthcare facilities support the holistic health and well-being of providers and patients, while providing the amenities, technology and flexibility to quickly respond to evolving needs and trends. The human-centered model incorporates wellness as an active component of care, which enhances physical, psychological and cognitive well-being while utilizing empathy, ethnography and introspection through design to create meaningful solutions.
When incorporating wellness into healthcare design, here are the most important elements to keep in mind:
Holistic care recognizes a person as a whole and acknowledges the interdependence among one’s biological, social, psychological and spiritual aspects. Providing wellness-focused amenities such as nap pods, hydrotherapy facilities, natatoriums, gymnasiums, meditation spaces, fitness classes, farmers markets, nutrition consultations, sprint ramps, growing gardens, exercise decks and outdoor cafes featuring healthy selections contributes to a patient’s holistic care and makes preventive care a part of their daily life.
When coupled with more traditional services such as pharmacies, labs, urgent care space, exam rooms, social services and emergency facilities, the modern healthcare facility truly serves the whole patient and becomes part of the continuum of care.
Healthcare facilities should be designed to easily adapt to evolving health and wellness trends, rapidly advancing medical technology, as well as respond to emergencies and health crises, to increase longevity and improve usability.
Modular walls allow facilities to easily change the configuration of rooms and create indoor-outdoor connections to accommodate different needs or ventilation requirements. Pressurized, modular units can be installed to accommodate patient overflow quickly and safely.
Virtual exam rooms offer improved convenience for patients, while ensuring people can still receive care in case of a health crisis. Rooms that can be easily reconfigured from acuity-adaptable exam space to smaller private exam rooms, and then back again, accommodate a facility’s changing needs. This amount of adaptability is key to keeping healthcare facilities relevant, helps reduce the need for major renovations and astronomical price tags in the future and helps healthcare systems be better prepared for future pandemics and other emergencies.
Connections to nature
Outdoor space and indoor-outdoor connections are critical parts of cognitive, emotional and physical health outcomes, as connections to nature are proven to reduce anxiety and stress and improve overall health and well-being. Instead of an afterthought, outdoor areas should be part of the original programming and an extension of the care provided indoors. Trees, diverse vegetation, local biodiversity, water features, parks, natural playscapes, community gardens, rooftop decks for fitness classes and respite, outdoor pools, private outdoor space for providers to meet with patients, open-air waiting rooms, areas for outdoor physical therapy and walking trails can all support patient and provider well-being.
Intentionally designed outdoor space has the added advantage of increasing usable square footage on a site, which reduces overall costs. When a trip outside isn’t always possible for vulnerable patients, bringing the outdoors inside through designs inspired by nature will be a critical healing and wellness strategy.
Designing with community in mind
Instead of focusing solely on facility users, the new health and wellness facility should be designed with the community in mind, to ensure facilities are used to their maximum potential. Spaces for preventive and behavioral health workshops, community events, fitness, relaxation and social connections can make health and wellness facilities an integrated part of the community’s daily lives.
Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, research should be conducted at the very early stages of the strategic planning and long-range development planning process to ensure it’s designed in a way that caters to the specific needs of the surrounding community, and also responds to the community’s history, culture, challenges and preferences.
For example, when LPA worked with Redding Rancheria tribal health to design an integrated health and wellness facility in Northern California, designers and researchers started with an extensive research process that included multiple surveys, visioning charettes, interactive brainstorming sessions and other outreach to ensure they had a comprehensive understanding of the tribe’s needs and expectations prior to starting the design.
As a result, designers and researchers have created a 70,000-square-foot outpatient clinic and 90,000-square-foot wellness facility that addresses the tribe’s desire to bring the community together and improve overall well-being through wellness that is integrated with the Western medicine model. From the nature-informed design to the way it’s situated next to a creek with views of the nearby mountain, every aspect was informed by Evidence-Based research and design.
When health and wellness facilities are combined, there is an opportunity to create efficiencies through shared common spaces such as lobbies, check-in areas, administrative offices, community rooms, restrooms, hallways and physical therapy/fitness space. When compared to two separate facilities, multi-purpose facilities require less square footage to accommodate the same programming. This lessens building costs upfront, while decreasing long-term costs through improved sustainability and a reduced carbon footprint, lower maintenance costs and improved return on investment for a facility and the community.
When health and wellness facilities are integrated, it can help reduce the stigma that some unfortunately experience when seeking healthcare. When visitors use the facility on a regular basis to access positive experiences such as group fitness classes, community health workshops, swimming pools and workout equipment, it makes it much less intimidating to seek care at the same location for a health concern, procedure or preventive care visit. It becomes part of the community’s lifestyle, providing a much more welcoming environment than the traditional hospital or healthcare facility.
Another way that integrated facilities can help reduce fear and stigma surrounding seeking care is by providing a whole patient model of health that includes design elements meant to enhance safety, respect patient dignity and reduce anxiety.
Examples include concealing support functions from patients, providing well-lit and calming waiting areas, designing a check-in process that protects confidential information and capitalizing on the positive effects of nature and fresh air.
Provider recruitment and retention
As widely reported, healthcare workers are burnt out and overworked, which is leaving many facilities understaffed. Now more than ever, it’s important that healthcare design helps provide a positive and welcoming working environment for providers and staff.
More holistic facilities can help improve recruitment and retention by creating a more collaborative, engaging and calming workplace through amenities that support both their health and wellness. When providers are working in an atmosphere where they can recharge and improve their own well-being, everyone benefits.
Today’s healthcare facilities should integrate wellness into every component of the design. Rather than an added bonus or one-off amenity, it should be seen as an integral part of holistic care.