The Weekly is STREAMING now. Join us at HorizonTV

Healthcare architect turned patient: What I learned when admitted to a facility I helped design

Discovering new ways design can—and can’t—improve the patient experience.

September 16, 2016 |
Stantec Blog

I am an architect. My specialty is healthcare. My formal education and 39-year career have taught me many lessons about healthcare design and construction. Some fundamental architectural principles still hold true: “Form ever follows function.” I know a lot about the effects of color, texture and light on the human mind. Even an understanding of the fundamentals of electrical and mechanical engineering has come my way. Those lessons and all that experience pale when compared to what I learned when I entered the hospital as a patient. I was admitted to my client’s facility—a facility that I helped design.

Truth be told, I did not want to be a patient—anywhere. Most people feel that way. Short of a planned pregnancy, who would want to stay in a hospital?

As a designer, I used to believe that all a patient needed was a well thought-out and appointed environment. The spaces should be clean, well lit, and the temperature comfortable—so simple. As a patient, I expected those basic attributes but I also wanted so much more.

Fear and anxiety
Before I even arrived at the hospital, my journey was riddled with fear, concern, anxiety, and questions… dozens of questions. Where do I park? Did I remember the forms? Where is the entrance? Where is the department? Who do I see?

No control
Once inside and registered, I soon realized that I was no longer in control of my day. I was told where to go, who to see, what to wear, and what forms to complete and sign. They asked me multiple times who I was and why I was there. Then I was told where to wait. Yes, the dreaded wait. As I navigated my way through this maze the designer in me wondered what else could be happening in the space: creative distraction, information delivery. These spaces and their wait times seemed like wasted opportunities.

Now, inside the exam room, I am somewhat settled. Or am I? I would like to know who invented the backless hospital gown. This person most certainly was not a patient when they dreamed this up. I understand that it makes the job of getting to my surface easier but my legs are cold. Where is that draft coming from? Can I have a warm bathrobe? I know this may sound picky but for heaven’s sake I’m a grown man wearing an old sheet with a slit up the back. Where’s the respect? Isn’t it time for a redesign of the hospital gown?

Soon I was completely under the control of the staff. Some patients may find this comforting, but for me it was a real problem. During my time in the hospital, I developed an “I Want List.”

  1. I want to know where my doctor is.
  2. I want to know where my nurse is.
  3. I want to know when my procedure begins.
  4. I want to know who that person with that tray of needles is.
  5. I want to know what happens next.
  6. I want to know where the bathroom is.

What did I take away from my experience as a patient? Design is powerful, but it is simply one aspect of a patient’s healthcare experience. This experience depends on treating patients like people (with fears, anxiety, questions and needs) rather than bodies on an assembly line. Designers need to do a better job of understanding this patient experience.

What’s missing from the healthcare experience, based on my experience?

Communication is powerful and yet, at the most crucial times, so elusive. Information gives one some sense of control—It will make me a better patient. Schedules are merely “targets of time.” I understand delays. If there is a delay, please explain why and how long it’s going to be.

When the procedure is complete, then talk with me about it. Tell me what you saw. Show me what you did. Use the available technology to help me understand. Be direct and honest. Talk with me about where we (you and I) go from here and when I get my life back. What do we do next?

A hospital staff that understands and responds to the fears and anxiety of patients routinely scores high on patient evaluations. If you help me with my health issue, communicate clearly, and care about me – I will appreciate your splendid facility.

Now about this hospital gown – Can I take it home and use it as a drop cloth?

Stantec Blog | Stantec

Published by global design firm Stantec, this eclectic blog features viewpoints, insights, and explanations from Stantec architects, engineers, and designers, on a range of issues impacting the fabric of our communities. Our contributors share their thoughts about design trends, emerging technologies, vexing challenges, and inspired solutions. For more blog posts, visit:

Related Blogs

March 16, 2020 | Coronavirus | StantecNicole McLellan, David Pernitsky, and Arthur Umble

As the global health community tracks the spread of this virus, it’s important for water and wastewater p...

ErinoakKids treatment center, Erin Sauga, courtesy Stantec

For our design for an ErinoakKids treatment center, we needed to include a staircase that incorporated a large landing, since kids with mobility issues require a space to rest. So, we came up with a treehouse concept, which can be seen at the top left of this image. Photo courtesy Stantec

July 15, 2019 | Healthcare Facilities | StantecIva Radikova and Olivera Sipka, Stantec

Standard building requirements don’t have to be boring. Here’s how you can inject whimsical touches into ev...

April 02, 2019 | Retail Centers | StantecJason Stephenson

We continually hear that “retail is dying,” but there are many foundational retail types essential to consu...

What happens downtown doesn’t stay downtown: The ripple effects of a strong center city

The mix of uses typically seen in downtowns—stores, housing, offices, arts and entertainment—typically generate far more fiscal revenue than other neighborhoods. Photo: Minneapolis Downtown Council

March 01, 2019 | Urban Planning | StantecBeth Elliott, AICP, Senior Urban Planner, Stantec

A new report from the International Downtown Association measures the true value and lasting impact of down...

February 21, 2019 | Airports | StantecMatt Colby

More airports are asking passengers to check their own baggage. What’s the ripple effect?

Student housing series: Designing a home away from home in The Golden State

A rendering of UC Davis student housing. Rendering: Stantec

January 31, 2019 | Multifamily Housing | StantecBryan Morrison, Project Architect, Stantec

California asserts building code restrictions more stringently than other states, making design challenging...

December 20, 2018 | StantecKate Ryan

When it’s time to make the move, designers can support clients in introducing a new workplace environment....

 Biophilic design in practice at Lower 48 in Denver.
November 19, 2018 | Biophilic Design | StantecKaitlyn Gillis

5 tips to infuse natural elements into the built environment—from plants to pictures.

September 24, 2018 | Architects | StantecMike Gervasi

While offering efficiency and flexibility, modular construction requires extensive planning and collaborati...

August 15, 2018 | Green | StantecNels Nelson

The WELL Community Standard equips planners to build health promotion into the very fabric of neighborhoods...

Overlay Init

Your card will be charged: 0