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Design quality in health

20th January 2014

David Lawrence

In my last blog I promised to write about the capacity for excellent healthcare estates to improve frontline healthcare services, not least by improving the working environment for clinical and administrative staff. Just a few examples of specific elements of healthcare facilities that can make all the difference:

  • Good spatial layouts enhance not just the patient experience but the workplace for all those involved in frontline patient care. We all know about the need for patient privacy and dignity, the need for single-sex accommodation, and the advantages of ensuite single bedrooms, smaller wards and adequate numbers of nursing staff. But we don’t perhaps always make a direct causal link between, say, staff recruitment and retention and bright and airy, attractive accommodation that is well-presented, modern, innovative, efficient: designed for purpose and a joy to work in. If we want more high-quality nurses, we need to meet their needs too.
  • Designing in safety enables clinical staff to devote their time and energy to positive aspects of good patient care. A poorly planned, inadequate environment (or one that is simply no longer fit for purpose) can divert scarce, expensive resources from frontline care to fire-fighting crises caused by the environment. A stitch in time saves nine, as my grandmother used to say – better to get the environment right and enable the clinicians to get on with their duty of care. There’s an interesting ongoing full-scale experiment from which we can learn, over the pond, in the form of a hospital (St Joseph’s Hospital, West Bend, Wisconsin) that from outline concept to operational building has been designed with safety at the forefront of the project. Notions such as consistent handed-ness, storage solutions that allow bank and agency nurses to easily assimilate new working spaces (as they have the same standardised layout) and so on are proving very effective.
  • Use of specialists in wayfinding design alongside expertise in the development of patient co-ordination centres can greatly enhance the patient experience, reduce administrative burdens and percentage of missed appointments and so on. The need to embed this thinking in development schemes at an early stage is often missed, and the need to provide an integrated experience using digital media is key to success these days.

I will return to this topic. I would be delighted to hear from readers of other examples of specific elements of healthcare facilities that can make a difference, so that we can all share thoughts about best practice in healthcare estates design and functionality. It is important to get it right.

David Lawrence is Head of Capita’s Health Property team

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