A well-designed healthcare facility has a profound impact on the level of care, the feel of the space and its usability. The benefits are well documented, with more than 1,000 research studies pointing to healthcare design as a way to improve patient care and medical outcomes and decrease medical errors and waste.[1] In the past, cleanliness was the main focus of designing a healing environment to combat communicable diseases, leading to healthcare facilities traditionally possessing a clinical and cold aesthetic. While cleanliness remains extremely important, there is an increasing recognition of the role a pleasant environment plays in patient recovery.[2] By incorporating good design into healthcare projects, facilities will provide better outcomes for patients and staff and last longer.[3]

Poorly designed healthcare centres can have massive ramifications for the wellbeing of patients and staff. A badly designed space can lead to errors and safety issues. Cognitive psychologists have found humans are more likely to make errors or behave clumsily in a badly conceived and poorly designed health care setting.[4] Good design can increase efficiency by reducing distractions, standardising the locations of equipment and supplies and providing adequate space for documentation and work areas.[5]

How to improve healthcare environments
The healthcare environment can be improved by creating facilities with high functioning, good design. Designing in a healthcare environment proposes a different set of challenges to any other environment[6] as it is constantly evolving due to changes in technology, budgets, patient demographics, and industry-specific challenges. Healthcare operational policies change, on average, every five years. Yet, major healthcare facilities are typically designed for 30 years, but remain in use for more than 50 years.[7]

To meet these increased expectations, architects working on healthcare projects need to be innovative, creating a space agile enough to cater to the current needs of the facility and flexible enough to adapt to any changes in technology, procedures and practices.[8] Architects need to be on the front foot, seeking out education on the latest industry movements, and tracking down information on how to specify in different areas of a healthcare environment.

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[1] Marberry, S. (2006). Improving healthcare with better building design. Chicago: Health Administration Press.

[2] Carr, R. (2014). Health Care Facilities. Whole Building Design Guide. https://www.wbdg.org/building-types/health-care-facilities

[3] Reiling, J, Hughes, R & Murphy, M. (2008). The Impact of Facility Design on Patient Safety. Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2633/

[4] Norman DA. Basic Books. 1988. The psychology of everyday things USA.

[5] Reiling, J, Hughes, R & Murphy, M. (2008). The Impact of Facility Design on Patient Safety. Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2633/

[6] DiNardo, A. (2015). Generation Next: A Look Inside Healthcare Design Education. Healthcare Design. http://www.healthcaredesignmagazine.com/trends/architecture/generation-next-look-inside-healthcare-design-education/

[7] Australasian Health Infrastructure Alliance. (2015). Part C – Design for Access, Mobility, OHS and Security. Australasian Health Facility Guidelines. https://aushfg-prod-com-au.s3.amazonaws.com/Part%20C%20Whole_5_0.pdf

[8] Silvis, J. (2011). Five Need-to-Know Trends Shaping Healthcare Design. Healthcare Design. http://www.healthcaredesignmagazine.com/architecture/five-need-know-trends-shaping-healthcare-design/#sthash.gpyUuDEq.dpuf