Healthcare News & Insights

4 critical design elements of pediatric healthcare units

Children do much better in a pediatric unit designed specifically for them. And when they do better, so do their families. In this guest post, Dan Scher, VP of planning, design and construction at a company specializing in facilities management, safety, environment of care, emergency management and compliance, details the four main design elements of a well-planned pediatric unit.


The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality states that nearly 6 million hospital stays involve adolescents. In addition, nearly 3 million of those are neonatal stays. Not only do healthcare facilities’ tiniest patients deserve a unique approach to care, but they require unique design choices as well.

While it’s easy to think of smiley faces and rainbows when it comes to pediatric design, there’s a definitive line between child-friendly and childish. Too many childish concepts could make the space feel ostentatious. Rather, pediatric healthcare units should incite playfulness and instigate hope while also providing adequate space for the parents, guardians and loved ones who will be by these patients’ sides.

Despite the higher price to build these types of units, research shows an engaging pediatric unit is well worth it. Don’t think this means you’ll have to break the bank. Pediatric healthcare units can be developed in a cost-effective and thoughtful manner to ensure sublime patient care and economical design.

When creating a well-planned pediatric unit, keep the following four design elements in mind:

Positive engagement

When in the hospital, children can quickly lose sight of fun activities and playfulness that is childhood. Facilities should implement positive distractions into their units to help provide the best care possible.

Designers should strive to make things as normal as possible for these children. Keep them engaged and playful! For example, engagements could range from outdoor play spaces to high-tech lounges or interactive butterfly walls for the youngest children. Pediatric units, unlike any other hospital unit, allow for creativity – there’s a lot of opportunity to integrate these unique elements.

Healing environment

For any patient, the goal is that they’re able to fully and progressively heal and return home. During the planning, design and construction phase of your pediatric unit, this should serve as a reminder and a reason to move forward. A well-planned healing environment for patients could make all the difference.

Think carefully about the amount of natural light, the noise levels, the overall sense of privacy and positive distractions when designing these spaces. For children, it’s also especially important that they have access to outdoor areas, as they provide playful and healing environments. Let kids be kids and maintain their playfulness by including playgrounds or gardens in the outdoor spaces. Indoor/outdoor connections can minimize stress for children and families, too.

If possible, treatment rooms should be kept separate from patient rooms to foster healing in those spaces as well.

Family-friendly spaces

While the focus of a pediatric unit is the patient, children are unique in that they often have parents or guardians who will be by their side throughout the duration of their stay. Due to this, a large focus of the pediatric facility design should be on family space. Both patients and their loved ones should be accommodated in a relaxed, considerate and spacious environment.

In addition, addressing the domestic needs of families will add an extra level of care. Due to the amount of time guests will be spending in the facilities, consider incorporating areas for cooking, laundry, bathing and even sleeping. That way, guests can maintain a comfortable routine and accomplish some of their day-to-day responsibilities as well.

For more unique accommodations, public computers, complimentary Wi-Fi, sibling lounges and more will alleviate the added stress of leaving the hospital.

Patient safety

While safety should be an upmost concern for all patients, it’s especially pertinent when it involves children. The inclusion of timed access cards, security cameras in all areas of the unit, limited-access elevators and alarm systems will ensure your tiny patients will be safe from harm. Don’t forget about outdoor play areas – they too should be properly secured.

By integrating special features, emphasizing healing and focusing on positive engagement, well designed facilities can assist in transitioning their child patients back into their homes in a cost-effective manner.

Dan Scher is the VP of planning, design and construction at Medxcel, a company specializing in planning, design and construction of healthcare facilities. Medxcel provides healthcare service support products and drives in-house capabilities, savings and efficiencies for healthcare organizations that, in turn, improve the overall healing environment for patients and staff.



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  1. Quite an informative article, thank you for shedding light on this topic.

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