July 22, 2011
The three words you never want to hear: "You have cancer." It was a particularly tough diagnosis for me because I've worked as a healthcare interior designer for over 20 years. My passion and goal as an interior designer that specializes in acute care hospitals is to create healing environments with an emphasis on patient- and family-centered care, but I had never experienced the built environment as a patient.
I suddenly found myself immersed in the healthcare system as a patient instead of an interior designer. My 2 and a half years of cancer treatment opened my eyes to what we truly need to be focusing on in healthcare design: healthcare facilities that are beautiful and comforting with less stress for patients and families.
However, if you're not receiving excellent patient care from your medical team, it doesn't matter if you're being treated in the basement of a hospital. When we define healing environments and patient- and family-centered care this must include an outstanding model of care giving. You cannot have an award winning healthcare project if you are not delivering outstanding patient care. As designers and architects we can help educate our clients about the importance of the built environment AND exceptional care giving.
I have had 312 doctor and hospital visits and have driven more than 10,390 medical miles since my diagnosis in July of 2011. The built environment does have an impact on how you feel, how quickly you recover and how you are treated as a patient. Evidence-based design has published a number of studies on the impact of the built environment; it leads to shorter hospital stays and less need for pain medication. It is important that we remember as healthcare designers and architects that staff spaces are equally as important as patient and family spaces and hospital lobbies. If your staff is happy, content and less stressed, they will deliver better patient care.
I have found new energy and creativity in my work as a healthcare interior designer. I now know what it is like to be a patient and I hope I can improve the built environment in healthcare facilities I design for patients, families and staff. I am more determined than ever to improve the patient experience; there is so much room for improvement.