05/11/2020 • 4 min read

Design for Better Outpatient Experiences

Support for patients, families, and staff

by Haworth, Inc.

Healthcare delivery is changing, as hospitals make a shift from inpatient services to outpatient settings. According to a report from Deloitte, aggregate hospital revenue from outpatient services grew from 30% in 1995 to 47% in 2016.

This shift to outpatient medical centers is attributed to multiple factors, including changing perceptions, technological innovation, patient preferences, and financial incentives. As outpatient care grows, we’re discovering how design supports the needs of patients and staff within these facilities.

Create an Environment of Relaxation

Environment is the first thing people notice when they arrive at an outpatient medical center. One way to establish a warm, welcoming atmosphere is by using design to address the emotional needs of people. Both healthcare providers and receivers need places for relaxation or mediation. Put another way, people need a little Zen.

Designing for Zen is about designing for the human experience. When you appeal to the senses of sight, smell, sound, touch, you:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Encourage relaxation
  • Improve focus and performance
  • Contribute to happiness

Introducing elements of Zen, like natural daylight; mood lighting; fireplaces; and natural colors, sounds, and textures make medical centers feel more residential and relaxing.

Healing gardens and patios are integral spaces in many outpatient medical settings. Research shows that simply viewing plants and nature has restorative effects. In fact, in as little as three to five minutes of viewing nature, positive psychological and physiological changes take place.

Furniture Design Details That Matter

In healthcare settings, furniture must meet multiple needs of patients, families, and staff. Thoughtful outpatient center design provides a variety of ergonomic options for each group to accommodate different postures and positions, allowing for changes in each.

Patients and families may sit for long hours and require a variety of postures throughout their visit. Patients who undergo procedures may require chairs with higher seats, or places where they can stand in pre- and post-op rooms. In waiting areas, reconfigurable pieces accommodate various group sizes.

For those who need to work while waiting, seated and standing desk options with built-in power outlets and Wi-Fi allow them to remain productive while a loved one receives medical care. And, places designed for privacy allow people to make phone calls or spend time alone.

For staff, good ergonomic seating enables concentration by minimizing the distractions and related stress that stem from being uncomfortable. In addition to keeping people comfortable and productive, research shows that ergonomic seating reduces the number of days lost to injury, illness, and more. Desks that adjust for seated or standing work support staff well-being by allowing them to change posture throughout the day. 

Surface and Textile Considerations

Furniture, by its very nature, is physically interactive. Over the course of normal use, tables, seating, and desks are touched by people. In healthcare settings, pieces are often selected for their durability, ease in cleaning, and deterrence of bacterial and microbial growth.

When furnishing an outpatient medical center, designers must consider several factors, including:

  • Cleanability
  • Stain and liquid repellency
  • Abrasion resistance
  • Seam strength
  • Antimicrobial properties

Furniture for medical facilities is on the front line of safety and hygiene, but it doesn’t have to look “sterile.” Designers have many options. Pieces with a more residential than commercial aesthetic can be upholstered with materials to make them more suitable for the environment. Textiles, like some faux leathers and Sunbrella fabrics, stand up to cleaning with bleach. Fabrics treated with Alta can handle bleach as well as quaternary cleaners and peroxide. Engineered fabric like BioSmart binds chlorine from the wash to the surface of the fabric to inhibit the growth and spread of bacteria. In addition to being used for apparel, BioSmart can be used for privacy curtains and other soft surfaces.

Special seating cushion construction can also offer some assistance in maintaining a healthier space. Chairs such as Atwell eliminate seams on the top surface of seat cushions and the front surface of backrests. This makes them easy to wipe down and prevents spilled fluids from seeping in. Plus, shingled deck seam construction functions as a controlled drip edge if fluids are spilled.

When designing an outpatient medical center, giving special attention to the details helps create a welcome environment that supports patients in their healing and staff in their work.

See how design details are improving the patient and staff experience at Lighthouse Surgery Center, an orthopedic outpatient facility in Hartford, Connecticut.


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