Healthcare News & Insights

Patient feedback key to better hospital design

If you want to make sure your meeting patients’ needs, ask patients. One hospital went the extra mile by asking patients for their opinions when it came to designing its new facility. 

ThinkstockPhotos-512922947When the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center decided to build its newest facility, it wanted to keep patient needs at the forefront of the design process.

So, as described in an article from Harvard Business Review, the health system hit the ground running with getting patient feedback before blueprints were even drawn.

The health system’s president, Dr. Daniel Podolsky, put together several planning groups with patients, community members, doctors, nurses, trainees and other hospital staff. Architects were also present.

University faculty and staff led the groups, and architects were encouraged to listen to attendees’ thoughts before coming up with a preliminary design for the building.

While there were fears that considering all the ideas from the planning groups would bog down the design process, this wasn’t the case.

The entire design phase only lasted nine months – and it ended with hospital executives having a clearer idea of what kinds of patient-centered elements the new facility needed to include.

Patient-friendly details

Patients and staff contributed ideas hospital executives wouldn’t have known about, including:

  • The use of a separate exit for discharge. Several patients said they were embarrassed to leave through a hospital’s main entrance after discharge. Because they didn’t always look or feel their best, they didn’t want everyone entering the hospital to see them leaving. So the new facility includes a designated discharge exit. Patients can avoid walking through public spaces, and the discharge area even has its own parking nearby.
  • More comfortable furniture. Family members and visitors wanted better furniture in patient rooms. So the health system narrowed its choices down to a few options, and then put them in its existing hospitals. Visitors were asked to rank their favorite pieces, with the winners being used in the new facility.
  • Videoconferencing. A hospital stay can be isolating for some patients. To lessen that feeling, the health system installed technology for videoconferencing in each patient’s room. Using an interactive flat screen, patients can communicate with family members, friends – and even their primary care physician in real time from their hospital bed. Even better: If a patient can’t have visitors for any reason, the monitor allows people who do visit to leave a “get-well card” that pops up on the patient’s screen.

The hospital also used advanced wayfinding techniques to keep visitors from getting lost. Every elevator for visitors opens to the same view of the visitor parking garage and the street where visitors enter the hospital. It also borrowed ideas from shopping malls, airports and museums for using landmarks to help visitors navigate the hospital.

Work was worth it

The key to all this working effectively was for the hospital to put in a great deal of work behind the scenes.

Patients and staff tested all new ideas before putting them into practice. Technology vendors were lined up months in advance of the hospital’s grand opening. Computer simulations mimicked staff members’ movements so the hospital could create the best layout for new patient rooms.

All the effort has paid off so far. Not only was the facility constructed at a lower cost than its projected budget, the hospital’s already been recognized as a top performing facility by the Joint Commission in its first year of operation.

Importance of idea exchange

Hospitals can take a page from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s book and incorporate more feedback from patients, community members and clinicians when making improvements or renovations.

That way, they can take a more patient-centered approach to the changes – and they won’t waste time or money on potential improvements that won’t be beneficial for patient care.

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