How the Pandemic Influenced Healthcare Design

Learn how healthcare design is changing to improve better patient experience

By Dan Weltin, Editor-in-Chief, Facility Market
July 14, 2021

The pandemic permanently changed healthcare design in several ways. Temperature checks have become the norm along with spaced out seating and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) stations. Many of these practices will remain after the pandemic’s conclusion, since the avoidance of any type of viral spread is a top priority.

Healthcare design is evolving rapidly as patient experience is becoming a major goal for hospitals. In this Q&A with Catherine Gow, principal Health Facilities Planning, and Jennifer Kenson, principal Interior Design for Francis Cauffman Architects (FCA), we cover a few of those factors that healthcare facilities are considering, including reception area square footage, how patients are seated and how they connect with workers.

HFT: How is healthcare design changing to create a better patient experience?

Gow and Kenson: Healthcare systems are now paying closer attention to patient priorities. 

Acknowledging that patients are looking for a better experience is half the battle. The experience is being re-engineered to provide a smoother process from before a patient’s arrival through to their follow-up care. Due to this shift, the interior design of these facilities is changing. For example, the square footage of reception areas and check-in desks aretransitioning to smaller, more concierge-style layouts. The smaller footprint allows  staff  to step out from behind the desk and assist patients and families if needed. We also see clients providing their staff with higher stools to sit on in a check-in area so that they are at eye level with patients, helping form a stronger one-on-one connection. 

To create a better overall patient experience, more amenities are being offered throughout waiting spaces. Some of these new amenities include increased seating options, spaces to work, places to eat, concierge staff and welcome ambassadors that assist patients with whatever they might need while onsite. Additionally, implementing additional technology and improved wayfinding tactics into the design of a space can help further satisfy a patient’s needs and get them to their provider in a more efficient way. 

In an in-patient setting, technology can provide patients with an increased sense of control. Hospitals are adopting in-room foodservice similar to hotel room service. Artificial intelligence devices are also being used to control entertainment within the room, window shades, and thermostats. By offering these types of options, hospitals can provide a better patient experience without having to dramatically impact the space. 

HFT: What effect has the pandemic had on healthcare design?

Gow and Kenson: The pandemic has forever changed healthcare design in many ways. Beginning with entry spaces, access sequences will routinely feature temperature scanning in lobbies. Waiting room seating is trending away from group seating arrangements in lieu of smaller, more intimate setups that are better spaced out.

Patient units used primarily for COVID-19 patient treatment are seeing entry vestibules and routes in and out for donning and doffing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). These PPE stations are now strategically placed throughout healthcare institutions for easy access. 

The pandemic has also highlighted the need for existing patient rooms to be designed for better patient visibility, access, and safety. Improvements in these areas will give patients and team members a way to interact safely and securely. Doors leading into patient rooms, which were once solid wood, now feature a vision panel or sidelite and cameras with auditory features.

By improving entry spaces and waiting areas, entry vestibules, PPE stations, and patient room visibility, healthcare facilities will be able to accommodate patients during future pandemics. 

HFT: Social distancing and temperature checks were some of the many short-term solutions to keep occupants safe while at facilities during the pandemic. Will any of them be implemented into design practices for future pandemics and in what areas of the facility?

Gow and Kenson: We believe social distancing and temperature checks will be a permanent solution in healthcare. With variant strains such as the Delta strain of the COVID-19 virus spreading, healthcare facilities are looking to ensure the safety of patients and their staff. Every few years, there is a major viral infectious disease; H1N1, Ebola, MERS, SARS and now SARS-Cov-2 (COVID-19) to name a few. With the future uncertain, there will be a need to incorporate these new safe practices into facility spaces long term. To better prepare for future pandemics, entry sequences with remote or handheld temporal scanning, additional PPE stations and waiting areas that accommodate smaller groups of socially distanced seating will be implemented into healthcare facility design. 

Patients have been happy with waiting in their cars and checking in remotely during the pandemic. Some clients are discussing keeping these processes in place as a routine policy, which would decrease  the need for waiting spaces. Additionally, we see a renewed interest in providing sick waiting areas that are separated from the larger patient population in both outpatient and inpatient settings.

HFT: We hear that the office of the future will have flexible design. How is this concept also coming to healthcare facilities?

Gow and Kenson: Flexibility for the surging influx of patients in healthcare facilities is more challenging, especially with mandated codes that need to be met. Outpatient facilities are more functionally suited to work using a flexible approach. There are manufacturers that have great options for modular solutions to fill these spaces. More intense clinical spaces such as ICUs or inpatient spaces can have flexibility options, but they will be more focused on the MEP infrastructure issues rather than space. In the future, designing building exterior wall systems that have panels able to adapt to HEPA filter systems will be considered. Additionally, making sure there are adequate outlets to fulfill the increase in equipment needs and the number of patients will also be a top priority.

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Topic Area: Interior Design

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