08/30/2021 • 4 min read

Create Safe and Comfortable Spaces for All

When it comes to healthcare spaces, choice drives equity

by Rod Vickroy

The healthcare industry has grown and adapted tremendously over the last decade. With a greater understanding of design aspects focused on patient comfort and respite spaces for staff, as well as the influx of new technologies for efficiency and treatment, healthcare facilities today look and feel much different.

Case in point, when someone is sick or ill, they will not be spending much time, if any, in the waiting area. With the rise of telemedicine and precise patient navigation, pre-registration, digital check-in, and self-rooming communication technology, the traditional healthcare waiting room is taking on a new, powerful purpose. 

Well-orchestrated patient parking, triage, and safe passage to the point of care for those who are sick or ill means that public spaces are now the domain of well patients, care partners, and the community at large. New terms such as community areas or transition spaces are being used to better describe the intention of traditional waiting areas—places where people meaningfully occupy time while a patient receives services. 

The New Waiting Room 
As healthcare practices reopen for elective procedures and non-urgent appointments, safeguarding employee and patient safety begins with the waiting room or transition space experience. These healthcare spaces should be designed to support patients, families, caregivers, practitioners, and staff.  

Safe accommodations, comfortable seating, and welcoming amenities improve the overall healthcare experience. Spaces should be designed to accommodate everyone safely and comfortably. But patient comfort goes far beyond a cushy chair—the entire space has the potential to contribute positively to patient well-being and experience when natural light and biophilic elements are incorporated. To help visitors feel welcome and comfortable, transition spaces often provide amenities like refreshments or access to Wi-Fi.

Inclusive Healthcare Design 
When it comes to healthcare spaces, choice drives equity—providing greater access to comfortable seating. Waiting rooms with rows of bland seating—some with designs only differentiated by the punctuation of bariatric width and arm rest height—are becoming a thing of the past. Forward-thinking healthcare spaces are designed with choice and accessibility in mind. 

Creating a socially inclusive healthcare space is an all-inclusive design process that strives to be inviting to occupants of all ages and abilities. Designing for socially inclusive architecture means considerations are made for human needs like wayfinding support (e.g., proper signage), play areas for kids, persons of size (bariatric) accommodations, wheelchair accessibility, spaces for service or therapy animals, outdoor areas for rest and relaxation, automatic door openers, charging stations for mobile devices, and gender-neutral restrooms. 

Variety of Choice
Architects and designers work to create experiences in public and community spaces that truly delight visitors. Providing a wide variety of choice in how people spend their time in a facility is top of mind. A focus on well-being, access to nature, natural light, and outdoor space, free or inexpensive healthy snack options, and various types of seating and postures deliver elevated healthcare facility experiences.

The community space within a healthcare facility is not only ideal for having coffee, resting the mind, or socializing; it is also a powerful third place for work—with hospitality and amenity characteristics that make spending time there relaxed, meaningful, and productive. In fact, community-focused healthcare facility spaces enhanced with Wi-Fi, charging stations, and tables provide excellent places for people to work while waiting—better meeting the everyday needs of patients and caregivers.

Reflecting the Community 
Healthcare facilities welcome guests who reflect the surrounding communities—including people of all ages, genders, sizes, and abilities. Stress and anxiety are often factors for patients or caregivers, so when it comes to a healthcare facility, a design and layout that allow people to feel as safe and comfortable as possible are paramount. 

Equity within healthcare facility design is the ability for a user to choose the most comfortable seating type, location, privacy level, or posture. Most guests are adept at finding the places within a space that suit them best when given a choice. This is one reason why placemaking in social spaces, like the waiting or transition area in a healthcare facility, is in the hands of designers. Understanding people, space, and purpose throughout a space ultimately elevates the experience and overall satisfaction of the users.

Consider Personal Safety 
Guests seek choice and comfort, but they also desire safety for themselves and their family members. Perceived cleanliness, appropriate materiality, and outward sanitation practices reinforce the importance of safety within a healthcare facility. Today, more than ever before, physical distancing safety measures, the ability to wait in privacy, or the option to reside in a space that accommodates a whole family group are necessary within any healthcare setting. 

Community spaces within healthcare facilities are most effective when the space design embodies the people who ultimately use the space. Appropriate seating configurations, lounge areas, private rooms, small alcoves, and access to natural light or nature make for a welcoming and successful equitable healthcare environment.