Dynamist Blog

Health Care Design Cont'd

In response to my column on the generally sad state of health-care aesthetics, reader Stephen Rauch sends a link to this trade journal article on "Beautifying Without Breaking the Bank."

With competition growing fiercer in the marketplace, ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) are upgrading their looks to draw healthcare consumers into a welcoming, less sterile-looking environment. However, cost is a significant consideration when determining what changes can fit into the facility budget.

"The owner's desire to limit the overall 'front-end' capital costs of a project usually result in high-end finishes being limited to the waiting room and reception desk areas and possibly the hotel-room-like extended recovery rooms (if they're a part of the project's program)," says William R. Massingill, AIA, chief operating officer at Polkinghorn Group Architects. "In the waiting and reception desk areas, carpet flooring, stained wood base and crown moldings, rich wall coverings, decorative light fixtures and integrated furnishings can create an ambience that is often more attractive and comfortable for patients and family members than the traditional hospital or physician office environment."

Massingill continues, "In patient care areas where more clinical surfaces are necessary (such as vinyl flooring, cleanable painted wall surfaces, and sturdy cabinetry), color selection can go a long ways towards creating an ambience where patients feel less uncomfortable and staff feel better equipped to providing better care towards those patients. Effective color and pattern selections for cubicle curtains, laminates on cabinetry, and even staff uniforms can contribute to an overall environment of efficient and patient-oriented delivery of a facility's services."

Too many medical facilities dismiss aesthetics on the grounds that attractive environments cost too much, but cheap doesn't necessarily mean ugly. Good paint colors, for instance, go a long way. The real issue is not cost, however, but competition. Restaurants, shops, and hotels would rather spend less on their decor, but they're in intensely competitive markets and can't get away with slighting aesthetics. Medical centers are feeling some pressure, but not enough.

Along with my column, The Atlantic's website now features a slide show of good and not-so-good hospital design, narrated by interior designer Jain Malkin.

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