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Design in healthcare has the power to impact people at their most vulnerable

Tama Duffy Day

- Healthcare

- Nov 13 2013

Tama Duffy Day

Design Principal at Perkins+Will, a global architecture and design firm establis

Passionate about the correlation between design and health, Tama Duffy Day explains how and why design has the power to impact the well-being of patients, caregivers and entire communities.

Can design contribute in a tangible way to creating a healing environment?

Absolutely. Design in healthcare has the power to impact many people when they are at their most vulnerable, so it is important to think through the entire process of reducing stress and ensuring that the experience, whatever the pathology or condition, is as pleasant as possible for everyone involved. A healing environment is about much more than the design of a physical place. In fact, with the engagement of outreach and social media, the seeds for creating a healing environment are planted long before the patient actually arrives at a facility. It can begin with a phone call or a visit to a hospital website. Information clarity and communication are social aspects of health that are sometimes overlooked, and this can adversely color a patient’s healthcare experience, even before they open the hospital doors.

So how does design really impact patients? How can it stimulate healthy behavior, for example?

There are many examples of design interventions that stimulate healthy behavior: the creation of medical facilities with access to brightly lit, attractive stairs to encourage more active, less sedentary behavior. Or enabling caregivers to assist patients without risking their own health by fitting rooms with ergonomic lift systems. Placing patient beds adjacent to bathrooms can also change the deal.

To improve the quality of life of patients, one must first clearly understand who the patients are and the end goals of the establishment. Design must relate to the health business at hand so that how a business plan and physical space are conceived is one and the same. Delivering services to urban homeless people is not the same as delivering them to an affluent suburban population or a rural community. I would never design the same facility for these populations because their cultures, expectations, and interactions are very different. The way people live in each community must be reflected in how care is given and patient needs are processed.

Again, social interaction is critical. A warm acknowledgement, a reception desk that facilitates eye-to-eye contact, and a welcome area quiet enough to communicate confidentially without raising one’s voice are design elements that contribute to enhancing the patient’s experience

Do the sensorial elements of design influence health outcomes?

They do! HERD (Health Environments Research and Design Journal) has published a lot of research indicating the direct correlation between design and improved healthcare outcomes. Some research touches on sensorial elements, others on more functional aspects. For example, single-bed patient rooms reduce hospital-acquired infections and improve patient sleep, privacy, confidentiality, and communication.

Ensuring family zones within patient rooms helps to reduce patient falls. Fitting rooms with ceiling lifts helps to cut down on staff injuries. Decentralized nurse stations reduce staff walking time and increase patient-care time, which raises patient and staff satisfaction. Views of nature help to lessen pain, stress and depression, which reduces the need for medication and the length of stay. These attributes impact staff by lowering their stress levels too, which leads to fewer medical errors. And the list goes on!

How do you explain this process?

Experience has taught me that we humans tick to biological clocks and respond to nature, sunlight, and fresh air in a very intuitive sense. We may not be able to articulate why we might feel calmer when we feel sunlight on our skin, see the imprint of the pattern of a leaf, or seat quietly outside, but our bodies are very attuned to nature’s cycles and seasons. Supporting all of these elements that are naturally embedded in us strengthens the actual process of health.

What about the cost of healthcare design: is it a luxury investment reserved to those who can afford it ?

Clarity in “designing” the patient and caregiver experience is not a discussion about cost as much as it is about process and vision. Often people equate that designing a “healthy building” is more costly. We did a study not long ago that shows that achieving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, or implementing sustainable hospital design, can add less than 1.25% to capital costs. So no, it is not prohibitive.

Tama Duffy Day is Internationally recognized for her creations of therapeutic environments, she is the recipient of numerous awards and has been elected to the prestigious College of Fellows of both the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). She also mentors, teaches, serves on the boards in the New York University and the Corcoran School of Design, and lectures recently at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Pakistan.

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Design in healthcare has the power to impact people at their most vulnerable

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  • Wed
    19 Feb


    Very interesting interview. All healthcare facilities should benefit from Tama Duffy Day's expertise.


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