Evidence-based Design: Marrying Form & Function on the Front Line

Evidence-based design experts know that outfitting healthcare facilities is about much more than just selecting attractive furnishings and finishes. Their choices impact and improve patient outcomes.

authors Cindy Sanders

When is a painting much more than just a pretty picture?

When it promotes health and healing.

Designers and healthcare industry leaders from around the nation recently gathered in Washington, D.C. for the annual Healthcare Design Conference. Convened by The Center for Health Design (CHD) and Healthcare Design Magazine, the four-day meeting and exposition unveiled the latest in evidence-based strategies and products.

Rosalyn Cama, president and CEO of Connecticut-based health design firm CAMA, Inc. and the immediate past chair of CHD summed up the conference experience as ‘awesome.’

“It’s rich in attendance with folks who are well-versed in the business of healthcare … not only how you design it, but how to build it and then manage it and sustain it over time,” Cama said of the multidisciplinary professionals in attendance.

No doubt the event also held special significance to Cama this year as she was presented with the Russ Coile Lifetime Achievement Award. Cama, who has served as CHD board chair for 14 years, was also named chair emeritus of the organization, which is dedicated to bringing together a community of designers, architects, executives, manufacturers and students to improve quality of care and outcomes through evidence-based design principles.

With dozens of educational tracks, facility tours, and keynote presentations, Cama said the conference covered a broad spectrum of topics and provided insights for veteran designers, as well as those newer to the field. “Because this is a research conference, they are revealing new data,” she noted. “You can’t think that what you heard five years ago is how you are going to operate. Demographics change, culture changes, operational models change. You have to stay current.”

One major change, she continued, is how technology is integrated into care and the built environment. “Technology is forcing us to change dramatically. It affects how care is delivered and how patients move through space and the system.”

While technology dominated many conversations on the acute side of the equation, Cama said, “On the ambulatory side, we heard a lot about patient experience – how to know your customers, deliver a more meaningful experience, and then measure it.” Additionally, she noted there were an increasing number of conversations centered on health and wellness and moving care from the hospital into the community.


Nature equals Nurture

Roger Ulrich, PhD, is often credited as the pioneering researcher whose work transformed how nature is viewed within the healthcare setting. Cama noted a landmark study Ulrich performed more than two decades ago underscored the difference in outcomes between patients whose rooms had a view of a brick wall compared to those who saw a stand of trees. In the study, patients recovering from abdominal surgery with a view of nature required less pain medication, had fewer complications, and were discharged from the hospital earlier than their counterparts viewing the brick wall.

The study, Cama continued, caused healthcare designers to really consider how to create environments that speak to the human condition … particularly when that condition is in a fragile and vulnerable state. “Looking at a wall of technical outlets is not a calming view,” she pointed out.

However, Cama was quick to add that same clinical equipment is critical to quality care. Therefore, the task of the designer is to place technology in a way that is easily accessible to clinicians while preventing it from being the focal point for patients and families so as to lower their stress levels.

She said there are a number of ways to bring nature indoors – from rooftop gardens and water features to rooms with a view and artificial illumination that simulates natural lighting. Cama also pointed out these features aren’t just for the benefit of patients but also speak to the needs of families and healthcare staff.


A Hint of Hospitality

While much has been made of the hospitality industry’s influence on healthcare, Cama cautioned that it should only go so far. “It can look inviting and beautiful if that’s how one interprets ‘hospitality.’ But it can’t be fussy, and it has to be clean,” she stressed of healthcare design.

Cama added products have evolved over time to give healthcare designers many beautiful options that marry the twin needs of form and function. “The manufacturing industry has grown up with us. Now there are so many more choices that have been engineered for this setting. Our kit of parts is much broader,” she said.

Cama noted one of the highlights of the conference is that it introduces attendees to new and improved products each year. Cama said there is now a luxury flooring product that truly has the look of hardwood. “I’ll look at real wood now and say, ‘Is that vinyl?’” she laughed.

This year, the designer was actually one of the exhibitors, as well. The IOA Cama Bed Chair debuted at the 2015 meeting. Although designed for use in any number of care settings, Cama said the idea really emerged out of conversations and requests from worried parents.

Her firm does a lot of design for pediatric hospitals. For nearly 20 years, she has heard parents say they wished they could just crawl in the hospital bed with their children to comfort them at night. Since that option is neither safe nor feasible with children who might be hooked up to monitors, Cama came up with a stylish alternative – a chair that rises and reclines. At night, a parent can stretch out at equal height to the hospital bed and easily touch and comfort their child without disturbing critical equipment.

“The research around the power of touch, is compelling” Cama added, pointing to the work of Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami. Since the design conference, the Cama Bed Chair won the BOY (Best of Year) award in the Healthcare Furniture Category.


The Time Between

In the inpatient setting, Cama noted that increasing attention is being focused on the ‘time between’ seeing clinicians, going for tests, or waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery. “There are long bits of time where you’re waiting. Where do we allow people to relax and be nourished?” she questioned.

Whether it’s by creating a chair, designing a curated program, incorporating a healing garden or botanical walk, or employing the power of local art to trigger pleasant memories, designers around the country are focused on enhancing outcomes by improving the outlook, even for a little while.

Cama concluded, “If you can get a family member or patient to pause and just forget for one second, then that’s pretty awesome … and you can do that through design. At Cama, we strive to design a better life indoors where you can thrive and flourish. We are seeking to design interiors that improve our health and wellbeing while supporting our constantly evolving lives.”



Healthcare Design Expo & Conference


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