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At the Beryl Institute Patient Experience conference last week, plenty of speakers mentioned the physical environment's impact on the patient experience. But it wasn't their focus.

They were more concerned with process improvement, utilizing things like patient mapping, staff training, and focus groups to change how hospital staff members interact with patients. All important stuff to be sure.  But the patient experience is not just about communication.

As many of us know, the physical environment can help or hinder effective communication.  It also expresses the culture of the organization and contributes to the overall patient experience. The building design is often the first clue that patients have about what their hospital experience is going to be like -- starting with the building exterior, then the parking garage, and their first point of entry -- a lobby, reception area, or ER.

Only then are they greeted by a person.

Inherently, I think the expert speakers at the Beryl conference know how important the physical environment is to healthcare. Many showed images of poor environments to illustrate their points -- dark corridors, cluttered patient rooms, and walls plastered with makeshift signs. One -- Susan Mazer of Healing HealthCare Systems, spoke about bringing music and nature to the bedside and creating an intentional healing environment for patients.

Okay, so I didn't go to the Beryl conference expecting people to be talking about the design of the physical environment. But it deserves more than a mention at a conference on the patient experience that's attended by front-line managers -- many of whom are likely to have input into the design of their physical spaces at some point in their careers.

What do you think?

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Dr. Susan E. Mazer, PhD

11 years ago

Sara, I agree with you! I know I was the only speaker to address the issues surrounding the patient experience that wholly reside in the environment of care. This we indicative of how the environment is set aside and almost invisible to these discussions.

Regarding the parking garage, it is not first in line. In reality, the patient experience begins with the phone call made to make the appt at the physicians office or the schedule a test at the lab or to call 911. The experience and perception is accumulative, with each interaction setting up expectations for the next. They all matter...and everyone can make a qualitative difference.

Sara Marberry

11 years ago

You're right, Susan! However, the parking garage is often the first clue patients get about the built or physical environment of the hospital.

Sara Marberry

11 years ago

Here's another comment from a reader that's right on target:

There is another element that is equally important to the Garage, and that is the physical environment surrounding the campus of a health care facility. How green is it, does it enhance walking, is it well maintained, and does it send a statement? These elements send a message because these are the first ones the customer and family see and yes it does affect market share. -- Tom Jennings, CEO, NXThealth

Lara Macklin, NBBJ

11 years ago

As a medical planner I can say that the patient (and don’t forget the family and care team!) experience is a driving force in all my projects. Although the built environment may not be the focus of this conference I agree with you that the topic “deserves more than a mention”. Healthcare architects and designers are driven by experience and process improvement first, and good design in many cases is a given. If a conference like this could expand the conversation, we just might be able to teach each other new ways of looking at how to improve the environment AND process improvements all in the name of great patient care. Lara Macklin, NBBJ

Sara Marberry

11 years ago

Totally agree with you, Lara. Thanks for the comment.

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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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