Doctor and patient

Better healthcare means smarter interior design


UPDATED FOR 2020

On a personal level, you’ve probably noticed that it isn’t just medicine that makes you feel better when you’re sick.

There’s nothing more comforting than a duvet day in snuggly socks and soft lighting when you’re unwell. Studies have proven that these everyday comforts are important factors that contribute to helping people recover from illnesses.

In this post, we look at the concept of healing environments, and how contemporary designers are enhancing wellbeing through clever interior design.

The design and functionality of healthcare facilities have transformed in the last six months. What does the future hold for hospital interior design as a whole? Let's find out.

The right materials go a long way to make design healthier

The first thing that healthcare interior design specialists look at is the material used in every space of the healthcare facility they’re working on. It’s pretty fundamental, but there are numerous factors at play, including things like:

  • Risk management
  • How to best support staff in their work
  • Fighting contaminants - this has received even tighter attention as the world tries to stop the spread of COVID-19
  • The presence of potentially harmful substances for human health, such as formaldehyde, allergens, etc.

So it makes sense that the very materials used can support the central purpose of each healthcare facility environment: to heal.

That’s why you see non-porous materials like tile or porcelain, metals and plastics – all of these contribute to the likelihood of a clean, sterile space from the get-go.

What is the future of healthcare facilities?

Patient care is complex and has complex demands on designers. Naturally, a smarter approach to the design of healing spaces considers the future.

This goes for every built environment by the way, not just hospitals or clinics. Climate sustainability comes into play as well because we're recognising now that hospitals especially must have room to grow.

Now, unfortunately, the reality is that many hospitals, even 'modern' ones, are the product of constant growth over time.

You see new wings and departments being added on when funding and budget dictate, often with wildly differing architectural styles to the original buildings.

The history of healthcare design is littered with choices made for short-term results.

Dutch architectural historian Cor Wagenaar has called many hospitals: "... built catastrophes, anonymous institutional complexes run by vast bureaucracies, and totally unfit for the purpose they have been designed for ... They are hardly ever functional, and instead of making patients feel at home, they produce stress and anxiety.”

- "Buildings (Design and Engineering)", by Alex Woolf, 2014

Holistic design and data collection: a match made in healthcare design heaven

This is the opposite of what hospitals should be, and the future of their design lies in tackling these major issues.

The single most important thing that a healthcare designer can do today is to approach their projects with a holistic mindset.

There are three ‘pillars’ to consider when it comes to holistic healthcare design:

  1. Think about the patient journey through the hospital, from the check-in desk or emergency department all the way through treatment, rest and discharge. That patient journey is changing rapidly in response to the novel Corona virus, and will keep doing so in the future, flipping the script for more traditional hospital layout designs.
  2. Healthcare designers need to look at the bigger picture too: the built environment is an ecosystem of interconnecting needs and functions. This starts with the people and moving on to the functions of each space throughout the facility, the processes of the staff and the placement of equipment.
  3. Certification programs and building regulations play a role. Building certification programs like WELL or Fitwel bring health to the forefront of design. Things like lighting, access to good food and water, fitness facilities, and clean air are just a few of the standards for WELL- and Fitwel-certified buildings.
Explainer: what is holistic interior design?

Sometimes referred to as 'wellness design', the principles of holistic design push it to designing for the entire individual who inhabits the space, mind, body and soul.

Holistic design goes beyond solving problems because even by its very application it solves problems. The focus of holistic design depends on the context always, so the problems faced by each healthcare environment are unique.

This is where data collection in existing healthcare structures comes in.

Proponents of evidence-based design argue that buildings will promote healing when design decisions are based on evidence collected through scientific research.

The idea is designing by using data and research instead of working with assumptions or ‘best practices’ will improve healthcare quality.

The overall goal is to provide concrete solutions throughout the built environment of all healthcare spaces, from hospitals to nursing homes.

As we're finding now in 2020, data collection in hospitals is more important than ever before.

Designing an optimal healing environment

At their baseline level, all of these factors and little decisions need to be taken into account when designing a ‘healing’ environment.

Specific ways we’ve seen this in today’s healthcare spaces are:

  • Interiors are filled with nature or natural elements, either through a view from a patient ward into gardens outside, or with aquarium placement or even art choice
  • Natural light has been very important in healthcare spaces since Victorian times and there are widely documented reasons for that
  • Soothing colour palettes (check out our guide to neutrals here!)
  • Reduction of environmental stressors such as sudden loud noises, glare from white lights, and poor air quality
  • Modular seating options for family and friends visiting in patients’ rooms and transition areas
  • Rooms that can be personalised (through the addition of patients’ personal items) to improve patient comfort

Introducing: our new range of antimicrobial fabric

We hope you’ve found this article interesting! As a quick recap, we’ve covered a lot of ground:

  • the best materials to use in a healthcare facility’s construction
  • the future of hospital design: it lies in giving them space to grow
  • holistic design and the three pillars of healing environments.

Learn about our exciting new range: FibreGuard Pro, fabrics that are anti-moisture, mildew and odour resistant, and anti-microbial, as well as being stunningly soft and easy to clean.

Related articles