Editorial: Finding Our Way to Better Healthcare

July 1, 2007

By Robert Nieminen

On June 27th, I became an uncle for the second time, following my sister's successful delivery of a healthy, 7-pound boy. As I entered the hospital, anxious to visit the new addition to our family, I found myself standing next to a reception desk. There was no one staffed at the desk when I arrived, and I must have waited for five minutes or more before a maintenance person approached and asked if I was lost.

After explaining my reason for being there, he told me I was in the wrong area of the hospital wing, and he kindly escorted me to the elevators and ensured that I knew where I was going. I thanked him and then immediately called another family member I knew would be arriving shortly and provided more accurate directions.

The experience gave me a fresh perspective on an issue that is so important to the design of healthcare facilities and one that is touched on in this month's cover story. If it isn't obvious by now, I'll spare the suspense: wayfinding.

"It's very important in healthcare that wayfinding is effortless for patients" (and family, I might add), explains Tara Hill, ASID, director of interiors for Stanley Beaman & Sears, the design firm responsible for the elegant project that graces our cover-the medical offices for the Piedmont Physicians Group in Atlantic Station in midtown Atlanta. Despite the fact that the Piedmont project is only a 5,000-square-foot space, Hill suggests that wayfinding and patient control were still important design considerations and were achieved through simple architectural elements such as floor patterns, ceiling planes and key artwork that help patients find their way to the check-out counter.

What is notable about the Piedmont project, despite its relatively small scale, is how well the design team was able to translate the client's goals, specifically its mantra, "Healthcare without Complexities," into the finished product. The interiors are designed with a vocabulary that focuses on a new medical ideology-one of reverence and the highest standard of care-and employs the simplicity of horizontal lines, planar elements and purity of materials to achieve an elegant, yet progressive design solution.

While we are on the subject of solutions, be sure to read the "story-behind-the-story" of the OpusTM Overbed Table from Nurture by Steelcase, the subject of this month's Design Collaborative. Alan Rheault, director of product development, gained valuable insight for the development of this critical component of healthcare furniture during a hospital visit of his own. "In that experience," he recalls, "I had nothing else to do but think about the overbed table and how to make it better." Find out what makes the Opus table such an appropriate solution for healthcare facilities and how it evolved from concept to finished product.This issue, we are also featuring a Special Report on the greening of healthcare environments that provides a number of resources for designers looking for more information on sustainable design in this market. "Healthcare is one of the largest growing segments in the design industry and sustainable practices are becoming part of the vocabulary," writes Jane Rhode, LEED AP, a senior living consultant and council to The Center for Health Design.

In creating sustainable healthcare projects (as with any truly sustainable project), there is no "one size fits all" approach, proclaims Rhode. "There is no magical list of materials that you use and ‘Wham!' the project is automatically sustainable," she explains. "Sustainability is a system that starts with sustainable business models, high-performance systems, materials and products selected for appropriate applications, and owner maintenance manuals that provide guidance on how to care for a sustainable building."

Adding a sense of urgency to the challenge, Pam Light, FIIDA and president of IIDA, suggests in her forum article that we have little time left to make a difference in terms of greening our buildings and bettering the environment for future generations. "Now, interior designers need to step up and use their expertise as change agents and take a critical role in leading professionals in the built environment toward sustainable responsibility."

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