Seven Strategies for Designing Healthcare Interiors for Clinician Productivity and Retention

Clinician efficiency and retention is a top priority for healthcare systems across the nation. With an estimated cost of up to $60,000 to replace a nurse, keeping staff engaged and productive benefits every aspect of healthcare – from patient care to the bottom line. As a former full-time pediatric nurse and now a healthcare interior designer at the Dallas office of Perkins+Will, I’ve learned firsthand several strategies to improve overall work experience through the design of healthcare spaces.

  1. Use a comprehensive, holistic design approach.

Engaging the specific users of healthcare spaces in the design process is crucial to understanding the day-to-day needs and workarounds in an environment. Employing a clinical liaison for all building projects provides valuable insight into end user needs and the functionality of a design. Clinicians are trained to be an advocate for their patients, and similarly, a clinical liaison acts as an advocate for clinical staff in the design process through improved function, better flow and a voice for employee well-being. The Nursing Institute for Healthcare Design (NIHD), an organization dedicated to integrating design and clinical expertise, is a great resource on this approach to holistic design and furthers the exchange of knowledge and research within the industry.

  1. Provide choices within functional environments.

There has been extensive research on centralized versus decentralized nursing charting models. The most successful results emphasize a combination of both, letting the user have choice. Since no clinician works the same, provide options to let them select what works best in the moment: private spaces to focus, open spaces to collaborate or dedicated spaces for close monitoring of the patient. Similarly, presenting a variety of seating options within the breakroom gives staff the opportunity to unwind privately or catch up with peers, depending on their preference that day. Space for employee wellness and balance leads to improved productivity.

  1. Focus on improving patient experience.

Thoughtful design can improve clinician workflow and have a direct impact on Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores. Improved efficiency for staff means more time for meaningful conversations at the patient’s bedside. Considering environmental impact on the patient experience, like acoustics or furniture to support family involvement, ensures that coordinating even the smallest details can help the clinician do their job better.

  1. Consider burnout when designing.

Specifically allocating spaces for clinicians to support one another is essential for camaraderie and job satisfaction. More than just a breakroom, consider providing spaces for staff to decompress privately after stressful events. Creating spaces where employees want to spend their break time, allows supportive peer relationships to develop more authentically. Connecting new nurses with more experienced staff leads to an environment of trust and can reduce errors through more open communication.

  1. Decrease visual chaos.

Clinicians are constantly inundated with reminders for continuing education requirements and updates on the latest safety initiatives. Breakrooms end up cluttered with multiple bulletin boards overflowing with these initiatives, which can be overlooked because of the visual chaos. Instead, a digital bulletin board, for example, is easy for management to update and organizes the announcements, allowing fun content like birthday reminders and upcoming pot-lucks to be incorporated.  Without walls covered in memos, designers can include nature-based artwork, providing a calming influence to those who need it most.

  1. Incorporate healthy building materials.

Perkins+Will is a recognized leader in material health transparency and is pushing the industry to specify healthier building products. Materials used in the built environment have a significant impact on overall health, controlling which toxins and chemicals to which we are unknowingly exposed. Newborns are born with an estimated 250 chemicals in their bodies from building products alone. Research and advocacy through Perkins+Will’s material health initiative is creating market demand and driving material manufacturers to invest in developing better, healthier materials with the same performance. This consideration is crucial for healthcare environments dedicated to improving patient health and wellness. Additionally, material health should be considered for the impact on clinicians and staff, since they spend the most time in the healthcare environment. Incorporating healthy building materials into the design process should be a priority for the long-term health and wellbeing for those at the front lines.

  1. Simplify navigation and wayfinding.

Simplifying navigation within a facility eases additional burden placed on clinical staff. Anxious and overwhelmed family members need clear and simple wayfinding solutions that allow them to reach their family member quickly without additional stressors.  A concierge dedicated to directing people or even a mobile app dedicated to wayfinding can help this need. Understanding the various demographics and preferences of patients and visitors allows a healthcare system to have a more customized solution for their facility. The more visitors are able to navigate independently, the better.

Incorporating these strategies throughout the interior design process will have long-term, positive effects on staff recruitment and retention. I’m grateful I can use my unique perspective to transform clinicians’ work experience.

Whitney Hendrickson, RN, RID, EDAC is a former pediatric bone marrow transplant nurse and now an Interior Designer in the Dallas office of global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will.

Posted in Expert Opinions.