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I'm tired of marketing getting a bad rap in healthcare design.  Of journalists who write that the main reason hospitals are building "fancy" new facilities and filling them with amenities is marketing.

So what?  As my friend and service marketing expert Leonard Berry said to me recently, "Design is part of marketing. It communicates, it delivers product quality, it impacts image and reputation."

The retail, hospitality, banking, and airline industries have long known this. And companies like Apple, whose products and packaging are designed so you feel excited and cool just opening the box.

But customers have always had a choice in who they do business with in those industries.  So design -- of everything related to their business -- has always mattered.

Consumer Choice in Healthcare

Well, guess what?  We're entering an era where healthcare consumers will have more choice of where they go for their care. It's about time.

So why shouldn't healthcare organizations make facility design part of their brand strategy to attract and retain patients? Give them a better experience?  Oh, yeah, and maybe improve safety and quality of care while they are at it.

And good design doesn't just have to be for the wealthiest patients in the best part of town.  I bet that, although their tastes may be different, the lower and middle classes appreciate good design just as much as the upper class.

Retail health clinics haven't yet realized design's potential. If the CVS drug store five minutes from my house would design a nicer Minute Clinic, I might go there to get my flu shot instead of my doctor's office, which is 20 minutes away.

Good Design Can't Make Up for Poor Care

I go to a dentist who is more expensive than most.  But he has a really nice office with nice furniture, soothing colors, and a digital fish tank that calms my nerves as I sit in the waiting room.  I feel comfortable there.  I also like him and his staff. So the whole experience is pleasant.  They designed it to be that way.

In the end, though, good design can't make up for poor care. Good healthcare experiences start with the front-line staff who interact and care for patients.

But good design can support staff to do their jobs better. And make them feel better about where they work.

What's so bad about that?

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Margaret Fleming

8 years ago

To begin with, a flu shot, as I read lately in a doctor's blog, can be a painful and lasting problem, and this may depend on who gives it, not on the decor.

So good design is for the health and security of the patient. Is it heartless to suggest that the staff gets to go home every day?

And I flinched when I saw the cost of my last major dental visit. Every time I see the space-age open half-rooms, I'm uneasy about what it cost. I had the procedure there strictly because of the dentist himself.

"Good design" far, far too often means money spent is NOT for the benefit of the patient. The nice art in acute rehab that left money only for a torture-device wheelchair with a stuck brake that was never intended to spend the day in?

The magnificent visitor's lounge in the hospital where I had my spine surgery? It didn't make up for the too-large furniture and dreary room where most of us were trapped waiting for the rest of our registration. Nor for the EMR screen blinding me while I tried to sleep after surgery.

The pretty to-the-eye addition to a famous CA hospital effectively cut many patients off from the former healing view of nature.

Yes, I am the one who raved about the new garden hospital in the middle East. That design had the patients in mind, even before they entered the building.

Too often, marketing means: the facade, the entry-reception area, and the visitor's lounge. Or the Burbank hospital garden that is entered through the supervisor's office! In short,photo ops.

Let's try marketing with quotes from very happy patients who got what they needed to eat and drink and get some sleep.

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

Margaret, you make a good point about good design shouldn't begin and end with the public spaces. But I don't think it's fair to equate money spent on facility design with money spent on equipment. The budgets and decision-making processes are different.

Mike Murphy

8 years ago

In reading your post I agree with many of your statements. As an administrator and clinician, the most important design element is the functionality for both staff and patients. "Marketing" in the traditional sense needs to take a back seat to evidenced based design. Priority has to be functionality, but both goals can be achieved with thoughtful design. A calm, relaxing environment can be very desirable from a marketing perspective, but it is even more important to have that environment for healing outcomes. Keeping all involved in the delivery of care safe and reduce errors through recognition of human factors is key. Amenities can certainly serve dual purpose, for instance in providing art that has a strong aspect of nature facilitates healing in humans. It is certainly possible to design a hospital that is very quiet at night to provide patients with the opportunity to provide much needed sleep - and improve satisfaction scores! These are just a few examples of achieving dual goals in healthcare design.

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

Thanks, Mike, for your comments! And I agree, healthcare facility design has to be evidence-based -- in essence, that's the real marketing power behind it.

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Sara Marberry, EDAC, is a healthcare design knowledge expert, thought catalyst, and strategic marketing and business development consultant. The author/editor of three books, Sara writes and speaks frequently about industry trends and evidence-based design. She can be reached at sara@saramarberry.com.

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