How Design can Impact Health Outcomes and Serve the Whole Patient

By: Perkins and Will

Many have begun asking why we only consider health and wellbeing when someone is sick—rather than preventing symptoms before they turn into chronic problems. Wellness can be approached from a number of angles, from strategic facility planning,  and architectural medical planning to interior design and nursing operations. Further, exploring the joint influence of holistic health design and design centered on our love for nature can help those who design healthcare facilities better serve the whole person.

Recognizing and Reducing Stressors through Savvy Design

In a healthcare setting, a patient is exposed to environmental and social stressors. These stressors can affect heart rate and blood pressure—two key health indicators that clinicians consistently monitor. However, stressors extend beyond the patient, and healthcare interior designers work to reduce pain points within a healthcare environment for caregivers and families alike.

One way designers can accomplish a sense of serenity in healthcare spaces is by improving access to nature, creating positive distractions, encouraging social support, and providing a sense of control. At the Oklahoma University Medical Center Perkins+Will created access to daylight and positive distraction through specifying floor-to ceiling windows with the additional advantage of locating the bathroom in each patient room. Beyond these environmental improvements, health systems should also promote patient customization for a better experience—be it through lighting controls or even how they are able to order their meals. Social support is crucial to reducing stress: at OUMC, strategically-placed waiting spaces, nourishment, and consultation pods in close proximity to patient treatment areas increase family connectivity.

Salutogenic Design VS Biophilic Design in Supporting the Well-Being of a Community

Biophilic design is centered around the inherent human affinity for nature and how we respond to material choice or lighting design, among other product specifications. At OUMC, for example, the wall that patients face in their hospital room features a wood-look material, providing a positive distraction for the individual through perceived access to nature.

Salutogenesis is more impactful in the built environment because the focus pertains more to the individual’s whole health, as opposed to disease management. In medicine, a great deal of time is spent responding to effects of disease, whereas focusing on wellness in a preventative capacity allows us to hone in on the fundamental origins of health. One key element of salutogenic design is that it doesn’t render a singular, universal solution. As architects and designers, we are responsible for molding a facility’s programmatic requirements to align with our client’s unique vision, encompassing a variety of solutions for wellbeing. Today, we are seeing facilities embrace salutogenesis in healthcare design by programming publicly-accessible spaces in various applications, including classrooms and education spaces, fitness centers, outdoor recreation areas, health spas, healing gardens, training kitchens, and healthy cafes. Outpatient facilities conveniently located in mixed-use developments through retail clinics and pharmacies are also trending. All of these strategies contribute to the well-being of the community at large through access, education, and innovative application.

Wellness Across all Aspects of Healthcare Environments

Wellness, at its core, is interdisciplinary and goes beyond the traditional healthcare facility—as this is an evolving model. Previously, architects and designers were creating healthcare facilities for functionality alone: the transport of materials, access to supplies, location of staff, etc. If we shift our focus to the individual person, the patient, and how they experience a space, we can provide meaningful steps beyond basic human needs toward a supportive environment. For example, tunable lighting in NICU or pediatric units can counteract lack of exposure to natural light. Why not apply this collectively to all patient care areas? The built environment shouldn’t exacerbate the physiological response to stress.

This concept can be applied to the entire healthcare environment. Caregivers and staff routinely put patients’ needs before their own. By building in a supportive environment for all, we can help counteract those clinical uncertainties that often negatively affect the wellbeing of staff. This reinforces the idea that encouraging wellness through design must be multifaceted, considering program inclusion, responsible material choice, orientation, and responsiveness to nature. In order to impact a community’s overall health, it must also be convenient and accessible.

The converging perspectives of healthcare design have made massive strides in improving environments for patients and staff, and it is heartening to see the industry striving together.