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I'm often annoyed when the mainstream media discovers a new trend in hospital design.

Because usually it isn't a new trend at all.

Take a recent article in Becker's Hospital Review (BHR), which begins with the sentence, "A new trend in patient-centered hospital design centers on making spaces more welcoming and comfortable through natural light, Wired reported Jan. 5."

Both articles quote credible experts who cite studies about the benefits of natural light and other design elements on patients. And the Wired piece states that in the 1980s, "...hospital designers began to shift away from favoring efficiency and office-like buildings and back towards light, open space, and positive patient experiences."

The 1980s were almost 40 years ago.  Is that a recent trend?

Hospitals as Shopping Malls

Wired also reports that many hospitals today have "large, central atria, similar to those at a mall or airport." That familiar architecture "makes the hospital less frightening and makes medical care feel more normal."

I don't think I've ever heard a healthcare architect or designer talk about making hospitals look like shopping malls or airports. Have you?

To illustrate this "new" trend in patient-centered design, Wired uses an example of a hospital that has onstage/off stage design. Patient rooms are on the outside of the building and supply/medication and break rooms for staff in the core.

This is also not new.

Designing for Staff

The new trend that Wired and BHR should have written about is the shift to design more supportive spaces for stressed-out, over-worked staff. A break room in the core of a building with no access to natural light or the outdoors is not really a good example of this.

Wired also quotes a principal at Safdie Architects who says, “The typical hospital is designed as a machine for delivering care, but not as a place for healing.” He thinks what's missing is "empathy for people as human beings."

The starchitecture firms always know how to do things better, right?

Who Does it Better?

Don't get me wrong, I think Safdie Architects' residential and commercial buildings are remarkable.

But just because you've designed one hospital doesn't mean you know how to do it better.  And don't insult all the brilliant healthcare architecture and design firms who are (and have been) incorporating empathy into their designs for years.

Also what's a typical hospital building? That, too, has changed since the 1980s thanks to the efforts of The Center for Health Design and thousands of healthcare and design professionals who've embraced the idea that the design of the physical environment can produce positive patient and staff outcomes.

New Lighting Design Concepts

Wired and BHR could have written about the innovative new lighting technology that's being used in hospitals and residential care facilities, like tunable LED lighting systems that simulate the 24-hour cycle of natural light.

Or how amber lighting (which doesn't disrupt sleep or circadian rhythms) is being used in assisted living and memory care to help prevent falls when residents get up at night to go to the bathroom.

Those are relatively new design concepts in lighting.

So What's My Beef Again?

My beef isn't with the mainstream media writing about hospital design. Because it's good for the general public to know that the design of the physical environment can affect their healthcare experience.

I just don't like it when reporters write about things that aren't new and say they are. And when a trade publication like BHR that's read by hospital and health system leaders picks it up without digging deeper, it feels like a step backward.

And I want us to all keep moving forward.

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Leave a comment

Kristin O Ellingsen

2 years ago

Sara - and I saw a similar article and got annoyed. Good to know it's not just me!


charles r rizzo

2 years ago

Tell it like it is Sara!

Sara Marberry_013-Retouched-New copy

What's my story? I'm a healthcare and senior living design knowledge expert who writes and speaks frequently about trends and issues affecting these two industries. I'm also a strategic marketing consultant and content creator, working with companies and organizations who want to improve the quality of healthcare and senior living through the design of the physical environment. You can reach me at .

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