Patient-Centered Design? Don’t Forget the Family


The latest buzzword in hospital design is “patient-centered.” Allowing patients to have a say in everything from where they see a specialist to what kinds of chairs are used in different parts of the building is not just aesthetic, but can also result in an improvement in patient safety, wait times, and other metrics of health. Other aspects of patient-centered design include better signage, live plants, and in-room internet service.

The Forgotten Element

There are now summits where hospital administrators and architects get together to work out ways to make hospitals better for patients of all ages and needs. However, one element that is often forgotten is families.

Family-centered design is generally only remembered for NICUs and early pediatric units. However, making sure that visiting family are comfortable is vital to the patient experience and it can help families (and often outpatients) get to the hospital more often.

So, how do hospitals stop treating family members as an afterthought? There are a number of things they can do.

1. Valet Parking

Valet parking is great for outpatients, but can also be made available to visiting families, especially if they have young children or mobility problems. Not having to hunt for a parking space can save a tremendous amount of time.

2. A Quiet Room

Many hospitals have a chapel, but not everyone is comfortable with the religious overtones of even a non-denominational chapel. Providing a quiet lounge or meditation room where people can go to think, relax, or even have a good cry in private can be tremendously helpful to those who are facing the serious illness of a family member.

3. Comfortable Guest Beds

Hospital guest rooms, when they exist, are often afterthoughts. Family rooms for pediatric patients may provide only hospital type beds. Providing hotel-style beds, including ones large enough for couples, can make a huge difference to the parents of sick children. If there is not enough space for that, a sofa bed or even a recliner can be a good solution. Other good amenities include reading lights, a small table for meals, and a curtain between the family area and the patient area so that night staff do not wake people up. However, keeping family in the same room enhances communication between family and staff, which is a particularly important patient-centered design element for pediatric and hospice patients.

4. Wayfinding Systems

Wayfinding systems are beneficial to patients, but also to visitors who are trying to find a specific room. Placing self-service wayfinding kiosks similar to those found in shopping malls in key locations can help visitors avoid getting lost (this can also help patient safety by reducing the number of extra people). Modern wayfinding systems have a way to sync to a phone, allowing visitors to take the route with them. Bear in mind that some people prefer to use a map, especially older people, and kiosks which only give a list of directions can be unwelcoming to some people.

5. Outdoor Spaces


By their nature, it’s hard to keep hospitals from being dreary and a little odd smelling. The best way to take a quick break is to go outside. Providing an outdoor garden with furniture and picnic tables, ideally with access to the cafeteria, gives visitors the opportunity to step outside and get some fresh air. If the patient is up to it, they can also get outside, which can promote healing, especially mental healing. Plant the garden so it has some color for all times of the year, except for very cold winters. Scented flowers will include people with vision problems in the experience.

6. A Playroom

Children get bored, and bored children negatively affect the atmosphere for everyone. Providing a playroom with appropriate equipment and toys means that there’s always a way to entertain the children. An outdoor play area may also be a good idea.

7. Wi-Fi and Charging Stations

Wi-Fi and charging stations are great to have in all waiting areas and common spaces. People will bring their phones, and people will want to use them both for entertainment while waiting and to contact others. Studies have now proven that cell phones only interfere with medical equipment at an extremely short range, meaning that cell phone use in waiting areas is not dangerous (although it could be disruptive and bans on using phone cameras are often a good idea). Some visitors may also be attempting to work while at the hospital.

8. Automated Visitor Registration

This can free up hospital staff for dealing with more complex questions. Kiosks, even the same ones used for wayfinding, can scan licenses and print off visitor badges as well as telling people where to go.

9. Canteen Locations

Locating canteen facilities so that families can eat with, or at least close to, the patient. Keeping things on the same floor can help a lot, or designing common areas so that food can easily be brought to them. Eating with a family member can help healing by strengthening family bonds. Providing a small table in patient rooms so that people can eat in the room is also helpful.

10. Storage

Storage in patient rooms goes a long way to reduce clutter. In some hospitals, there are not even coat hooks in the room, which results in coats being piled on chairs or the bed. This can then interfere with the ability of staff to care for the patient as well as making the family feel as if they are not being catered to.

11. Art

Appropriate art can help everyone feel more comfortable and welcome. Placing art both inside and outside the building can reduce the anxiety of younger patients and also help family members deal with their feelings more effectively. Live plants are also a particularly good way to reduce anxiety and can help prevent hospital buildings from becoming “sick.”

Family-centered design is often an extension of patient-centered design. For example, wayfinding systems designed to ensure ambulatory patients get to their destination easily also help family members find the right room. Internet access is useful for patients and visitors alike. However, too many hospitals are still thinking more about patients, and not enough about visitors. This is particularly the case with adult hospitals, as pediatric hospitals tend to have more vocal family advocates. Catering better to families, though, can improve a hospital’s reputation and, most importantly of all, patient outcomes.


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Using Family-Centered Design to Support Patient Outcomes, Part 1

The Attainia Team
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The Attainia Team