Interior design is having its moment in healthcare
CHICAGO—A pair of crystal chandeliers illuminate the open bar stocked with infused waters and teas rich in antioxidants. Around the room, trendy air-purifying fiddle-leaf fig plants draw your eye up to the recessed gold ceiling. And a row of bistro tables line the wall of French-style windows, which are likely to be open on warmer Chicago days.
The Clark isn't a chic new bistro. It's Swedish Covenant Health's Instagram-worthy outpatient clinic. Beyond the gilt-edged waiting room are nine exam rooms and a phlebotomy lab, among other traditional, yet posh, health center fixtures. The 3,500-square-foot clinic, scheduled to open Feb. 28, is just one example of a trend that's sweeping the healthcare industry.
From aesthetic improvements to the creation of mixed-use spaces, hospitals and clinics are upgrading interiors to attract and retain patients, as well as skilled clinicians—and even create new revenue streams. The focus on design comes at a time when organizations rooted in inpatient care are building new outpatient sites in response to pressures for lower-cost treatment settings.
High-end design touches don't add much to the overall cost of such projects. Swedish Covenant Health spent nearly $1.5 million on its new multispecialty clinic, which also includes a host stand in place of a front desk and various seating options to accommodate patients' needs.
Crediting ROLD Design, the physical and digital design firm that spearheaded the project, Swedish Covenant CEO Anthony Guaccio says the clinic didn't cost any more to create than a conventional health center would have.
"Rarely are these decisions about spending more money," says Randy Guillot, principal and global health and wellness leader at Gensler, which worked on the new professional building for Cook County Health, Chicago's public health system. "It's about being smarter and doing more with less."
The nine-story, 282,000-square-foot outpatient clinic and administrative hub cost a total of $128 million. In addition to walls of windows that let in natural light, the professional building integrates nature through soothing photos of forests and streams.
Health systems have also needed to focus more on building physical spaces and cultures that attract employees and combat costly turnover. Guaccio says recruiting top talent for the Clark is easier now than it's ever been for other facilities.
Many firms will say they design around the patient, but it's equally important to keep caregivers and staff in mind, says Steve Blye, creative director and associate director of healthcare at Chicago-based Legat Architects. Facilities should make staff comfortable, reduce their stress and also limit the amount of time they spend walking from one point to the next, he adds.
Amid fierce market competition and the shift from volume- to value-based care, design is now viewed as more of an experience. It's why, in addition to clinical qualifications, Guaccio hired doctors with certain communication styles to ensure patients would feel comfortable at the Clark. Gillian Ryan, president and CEO of ROLD Design, says positive patient experiences aren't created by "just putting in new furniture and wall color. We had to get down to the website experience, the booking experience, the 'I walk through the door and I'm greeted' experience."
For Guillot, the most interesting and sustainable healthcare environments are multiuse spaces that allow programs to evolve over time. It just so happens that such spaces are among the fastest-growing market segments. In addition to the newsstands and florists that have historically set up in hospitals, more than 20 coffee shops and restaurants can be found on Northwestern Medicine's campus in downtown Chicago. The tenants provide additional revenue streams that can help offset operating expenses.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital "has totally integrated itself into the community, and it has set a real national precedent for other health systems," says Guillot.
Swedish Covenant already plans to offer its Andersonville waiting room, when the clinic is closed, to residents for baby showers and other events.
"If you're in the neighborhood and you want a place to sit down, have a cup of coffee and connect to Wi-Fi, we're going to welcome that," Guaccio says. "It's designed so people will want to do just that. It becomes more of a community gathering place than just a place where you see your doctor."
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