Unlike visiting entertainment spaces, shops, hotels, churches and (for some people) work and school, for most of us, visiting a doctor’s office or the hospital is not enjoyable. Many patients and visitors experience in healthcare facilities, either from feeling unwell, worrying about a sick loved one, or about a pending diagnosis. This anxiety – combined with an already-stressed staff – results in a wellness facility in need of wellness.

Healthcare facilities have traditionally focused on the operational efficiency or clinical expertise. But today, patients have more choices in physicians and systems. They can even share their experience on social media or through the Press Ganey survey, which rates patients’ experiences.

For designers, it’s imperative to create the total experience. A holistic approach focuses on mind, body and spirit, and it begins with understanding the flow of patients, visitors, staff and material.

We start where the experience begins, which for many is an online search through the healthcare system’s web portal, or scheduling by phone. As the first contact with customers and patients, online portals and scheduling staff must provide excellent customer service.  It then moves to finding the facility, navigating to the destination, registering, waiting for an undetermined time, then eventually seeing the clinical practitioner who may direct the patient somewhere else for diagnostic service, such as the lab or imaging. Afterwards, they reverse course to find their way out of the maze that is a typical hospital, remember where they parked, and so on. Ultimately, if it is a positive experience they might go on social media and post about it. But if they had a bad experience, they are more likely to share it with the world.

A Case Study

Providence Health Services (PHS) Advanced Ambulatory Care Center is a new, 106,000-square-foot medical office building and ambulatory surgery center in Torrance, California. It offers Women’s Imaging and Diagnostic Imaging, and houses other tenants including the City of Hope, an orthopedic clinic and an ambulatory surgery center.

We began with PHS’ Imaging and Women’s Center. PHS initially requested nine registration desks in a traditional check-in formation. But further investigation revealed that 90 to 95 percent of all patients pre-register by phone. Since we were consolidating departments, economies of scale could reduce the total numbers of desks. Or perhaps we could rethink the entire process.

We learned that most of the time registration staff was not doing registration tasks at all. Instead, they were doing other administrative functions that did not need to occur at the front desk. We also learned that staff was rightfully concerned that any change could eliminate jobs. Working through the discussion, we developed a new approach. Now, arriving patients are greeted by a two-person concierge desk. Most patients are pre-registered and don’t need to fill out additional paper work, and can proceed directly to their destination: a waiting area, a dressing area, or the actual treatment space. If a patient is not pre-registered or has financial questions, they have a private, glass-enclosed area near the waiting area.

The waiting room is like a hotel, with a fireplace, comfortable seating areas and connection to a café. The concierge staff can sit down with patients for follow-up work rather than force them to wait in a queue. We even convinced the other ground-floor tenant, City of Hope, to open up its waiting room so that the two waiting rooms and café connect, like one seamless space.

The resulting design is welcoming, up-lifting. The Women’s Center component even offers a resort-style approach, with a softer ambience and warm materials to diffuse the stress associated with mammograms and other treatments.

Learning From Other Markets 

Cuningham Group has four main market groups: Heal (hospitals and medical office buildings), Live/Work (workplace and housing), Grow (education, faith-based and non-profit organizations) and Play (hospitality, retail and entertainment). We meet regularly with the experts in these market groups to learn the trends or innovations in their industry that we can consider incorporating into projects.

Sharp Rees Stealy Medical Office Building in Rancho Bernardo is by Stephen Whalen

The Live/Work team updates us on its work with the largest, privately-held electronic medical records firm in the country, Epic Systems. Its technologies may impact our customers (although we have to be careful not to share trade secrets).

The Grow team teaches us trends from education, and how collaborative research plays an important part of quality healthcare delivery. We also incorporate the faith-based team in the design of our chapels and grief-counseling facilities.

Our Play team offers innovative ways to reduce waiting times, or make waiting more enjoyable. Our themed entertainment work with Disney and Universal has taught us how to make queueing more enjoyable for guests. And hospitality trends, such as the concierge approach, elevates how the waiting room looks and feels.

Lee Brennan, AIA, is Cuningham Group Architecture Heal Principal | Mark Tiscornia, LEED® AP BD+C, is Cuningham Group Architecture Heal Principal

Form Magazine

Author: Form Magazine

FORM: pioneering design, a publication that celebrates Southern California’s contribution to architecture, design, and the visual arts.