Editorial: An Apple a Day

March 20, 2007
By Robert Nieminen

On a recent flight home from Spain, I started to get a very familiar feeling—body aches, chills, sweats—all the impending signs of the flu. After what turned into an unbearable flight home, I spent the following weekend in bed running a dangerously high fever; the result of a run down immune system from a hectic week overseas. After day two into my illness, a very distressing thought occurred to me—if the fever didn't break soon, I might end up in the hospital, a fact I did not want to face.

Fortunately, the fever did let up and a hospital visit wasn't required, but my negative perception seems to linger on, and I began wondering why I, like so many others, am so averse to hospital visits. Apart from the obvious reasons, it's clear that hospitals are simply uncomfortable places to be in or even visit. While no one hopes to suffer an illness or injury, most people I know would prefer to heal at home if it were possible rather than spend any amount of time in a patient room.

Of course, design has to bear some responsibility for those feelings of discomfort people experience when they think of healthcare facilities. Too many hospitals can be described as "clinical" or "cold" or "sterile," hardly words that inspire healing. However, the tide is turning in healthcare design (thank goodness), and hospitals are now, more than ever, taking cues from hospitality and residential design, and employing the best available research to ensure that patients' needs are central to the design of healthcare facilities.

One such example graces this month's cover—the Sentara Heart Hospital in Norfolk, VA, designed by Omaha-based HDR Architecture Inc. From the onset of the project, both Sentara staff and physicians wanted a facility that was truly customer friendly. While the facility boasts the latest in medical technology, it also caters to patient and family needs as well, complete with wireless Internet access, online educational tools, a business center, guest pagers and plasma TVs. From its Main Street gift shop and information kiosk, to a technology wall explaining the latest cardiac tools and technology, to the open and transparent patient corridors, café and lobby, every aspect of the design enhances the patient experience.

The concept of patient-centered care, which is central to the PlanetreeSM philosophy and recognizes that the patient's environment is important to the healing process, was also the driving factor behind the design of Alegent Lakeside Hospital in Omaha, NE, one of this month's featured Photo Essays. Designed by LEO A DALY, Lakeside Hospital is West Omaha's first full-service community hospital that combines the most advanced technology with a soothing, supportive atmosphere conducive to healing. Patient-centered care is prevalent in both the common areas and private rooms, which feature an abundance of natural lighting, stained glass, homelike décor and comfortable seating. Each room is equipped with its own private bathroom, furniture to accommodate family members who wish to stay overnight, an on-call meal service program, movies on demand and Internet access.

Interestingly, even something as simple as color can play a significant role in a hospital's design. That was certainly the case for Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest nonprofit healthcare system, as it researched and selected the latest flooring products for its buildings. "Healthcare design needs to change, and shifting the colors that are used in our buildings is an important piece in what must be done," explains Abelardo Ruiz, Kaiser Permanente's senior project manager, in this month's Design Collaborative article. "Colors need to be more engaging and work to create environments that show variety while also being healing and soothing," adds Ruiz. As a result, Kaiser Permanente worked with nora® rubber flooring to develop an entirely new color palette that supported its human-centered design philosophy.

Perhaps if my community boasted patient-centered facilities such as these, I wouldn't be so hesitant to consider a trip to the hospital. Until then, all I can do is hope that this trend in healthcare design takes root in the mainstream and transforms the medical landscape—or else I'll have to start eating an apple a day …

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