It’s a Brave New World in Health Care Design Today

benjamin russell hospital
Elements of cheerful color reinforce branding and provide wayfinding in the lobby of the Benjamin Russell Children’s Hospital.


Seeking to attract healthy patients as well as the sick, health care providers strive to deliver a continuum of care to a population that is growing in quantity and increasing in age. Patients, empowered with choice and well-versed in comparison shopping, seek value and convenience from their health care providers.

jenny west

Jenny West,
Transformation Leader, Knoll

A more patient-centered, family focused perspective has emerged, inspiring new models of care delivery.

The consumer and economic trends have far-reaching impact and influence on the design of health care environments.

Knoll studied the changing health care ecosystem, including speaking with industry observers and experts across the country, to identify the most significant trends driving planning for health care environments today. This brief article shares a summary of suggestions for planning and design strategies to support new models for today’s built environment that also adapt to future standards of care delivery. Much more in-depth information is included in the full white paper.


Health Care Environment Solutions and Strategies

Producing a superior patient experience depends on three factors coming together: caring staff (people), patient-centered operations (process) and well-designed facilities (place). As the industry transitions to a patient-centered model focused on achieving good outcomes, a positive experience is a key metric, maximizing reimbursement as well as attracting patients.

Environments must respond to health care’s new paradigm with flexible, multipurpose, technology-enabled spaces that meet today’s standards of patient care, family involvement and multidisciplinary care teams with increased patient satisfaction, caregiver productivity and throughput. Our research suggests five strategies to successfully create such spaces.

1. Enhance the patient experience to promote healing and comfort. A holistic approach that engages multiple senses and addresses emotional and spiritual needs can reinforce healing efforts on a deeper scale.
• Connections to nature and opportunities for reflection.
• Natural light and views.
• Design that distracts and engages.
• Opportunities that encourage mobility.
• Empower the patient.

health care view

Wide expanses of glass that showcase views of a healing garden, comfortable seating and soothing colors create a calm and inviting environment.

2. Provide spaces and comforts for family and staff. With stays in rehabilitation centers averaging even longer – around 20 days – facilities are dedicating significant amounts of public space to assure the comfort of family and friends who accompany patients:
• Allocate in-room space for seating and gear storage.
• Provide a variety of spaces.

3. Look to other industries for inspiration. With heightened emphasis on patient satisfaction, and a savvier health care customer, designers look to industry models outside health care for inspiration and strategies adaptable to healing environments. The airline, retail and hospitality industries provide relevant lessons in creating inviting environments that deliver a superior customer experience:
• Hotels and restaurants offer welcoming environments (informal lounges, nicer check-in areas, concierge models).
• Airline clubs provide comfort and choices in waiting.
• Retail destinations offer strong branding, convenience, easy access and a pleasant customer experience.
• Restaurant-style waiting.

4. Lean approaches to alternative care models and modern workplaces. In the health care environment, where managers are asked to do more with less (staff, technology, time and workspace), the tenets of lean thinking – reducing waste, improving productivity and efficiency and achieving the best clinical outcomes – are increasingly prevalent in spaces that support new modes of care delivery:
• On stage/off stage model.
• Workspaces that support teamwork, collaboration and privacy.
• Staff spaces that support connections, relaxation and respites.

5. Design for Flexibility. The only true hospital of the future is the one that maximizes the ability to accommodate change. Building in flexibility in spaces and furnishings wherever possible is the best insurance of creating an environment that can adapt smoothly as medicine and technology further advance.
• Modular spaces with multiple functions.
• Varied options for patient education, community events.
• Flexible furniture that adapts.

Future Outlook

More changes are in store on the health care front.

The future of health care relies on successfully integrating the new outcome-based model and its accompanying mindset based on patient self-management and accountability. Success also hinges on patient management of lifestyle and chronic conditions, the most common and costly of all health problems, but also the most preventable.
As attitudes and policies change, and delivery models continue to shift, the built environment will play a significant role in American health care and the corresponding patient experience, one likely to affect virtually every individual at one point in their life.

Through research, Knoll explores the connection between workspace design and human behavior, health and performance, and the quality of the user experience. We share and apply what we learn to inform product development and help our customers shape their work environments. To learn more about this topic or other research resources Knoll can provide, visit

Published in the March 2019 issue of Building Dialogue. 

Edited by Building Dialogue