Designing for Quality Care – Integrating Person-Centered Care Principles into Health Care Design

Mar 16 2023

By: Samantha Meyers, RID, NCIDQ, EDAC

Health care is a constantly evolving industry. The continuous innovations being made, and new trends being introduced make the health care industry one of the most complex and challenging industries to design for.

Over the last five years, the industry has begun to move towards a new model of care known as person-centered care.

Person-centered care is defined by the World Health Organization as “care approaches and practices that see the person as a whole with many levels of needs and goals, with these needs coming from their own personal social determinants of health.” This care strategy places people and communities at the center of health services and empowers them to take charge of their own health.

To create a person-centered health care environment, designers should strive to design a space that positively benefits all users and not just patients.

Some elements of person-centered health care design include:

Striving for Safety

The safety of patients, visitors, health care providers and other staff is of the upmost importance when designing any health care setting. Everything from the selected interior finishes to the layout of the building is designed to keep all users safe by reducing infection and the spread of disease, preventing falls and other injuries, allowing providers to have quick and easy access to the tools and documents they need, and much more.

“When designing any health care setting, we [the design team] try to think through worst case scenarios and design with them in mind to keep staff, patients, and visitors safe.”
— Sam Meyers, Project Manager & Interior Designer

Engaging all Users in the Design Process

When designing any health care setting, it is important for the design team to create a space with the needs of all users in mind. Designers can ensure that they are creating a space that will positively impact the community through user engagement.

Meeting with patients, community members, health care providers, and other staff to obtain their feedback is a vital step to create an efficient space. A few ways our firm engages with users are through community meetings, lunches, and gathering information from the client and stakeholders both in person and virtually.

Empowering All Users Through Design

A person-centered care model encourages providers to work with their patients to develop a care plan that will meet their individual needs and goals. To match this philosophy, designers can help give users a sense of control through strategic design. For example, adding privacy screens in bay settings and adding adjustable lighting and temperature controls in each room are a few safe ways to give users more autonomy in health care environments.

“With every design, I focus on trying to give users as much agency as possible. In a health care setting, this can mean including multiple seating options, adjustable lighting, and temperature controls so that patients, providers, and visitors can be as comfortable as possible.”
— Sam Meyers

Nurses station.

Creating Healing Environments

Interior design is a powerful tool that can influence the atmosphere of a space. An unpleasant environment can evoke feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. A space’s atmosphere plays a key role in health care design because it can shape each user’s experience in the space, to bring in new users, and to assist in the healing process.

It is important for designers to find a balance between adhering to regulations and adding in creative elements. Just because health care design is heavily regulated doesn’t mean that creativity is thrown out the window. Designing health care settings to enhance a connection to nature, including a lot of natural light, creating communal spaces, and giving patients some controls of their surroundings are a few ways designers can create environments conducive to healing.

Project Spotlights

UNC Health AYA Oncology Infusion Center

MHAworks was hired to renovate the Adolescent/Young Adult (AYA) Oncology Infusion Center for UNC Health. This infusion center provides outpatient treatments for adult oncology and benign hematology patients between the ages of 18-40. Patients will come to this infusion center to receive various treatments including chemotherapy and hydration and infusion of blood products.

When patients come to an oncology infusion center, they may be spending up to eight hours receiving infusions at a time. When designing any health care setting, it is important that patients and their guests feel as comfortable as they can given their current situation, especially if they need to spend prolonged periods of time in the space.

One of the goals of this renovation was to design the space to bring the feelings of being outdoors or in a forest inside. Since live plants and woven fabric materials are not safe to use when designing a health care environment, the design team focused on using cleanable materials, graphic prints, and a color pallet that reflects colors found in nature to safely bring the outdoors inside of the infusion center.

People can be stressed in medical facilities, whether they are a patient, a loved one of a patient, or a provider. When people are exposed to natural elements, even if through a window or in a picture, it reduces stress and makes them feel more comfortable.

Studies conducted in schools, offices and hospitals show that letting in natural light increases job satisfaction, enhances performance, reduces depression, and enhances recovery. Although it may sound too good to be true research is even showing that nature-inspired design principles and natural materials in buildings can facilitate a sense of comfort, wellness, and relaxation.

Nature-inspired design can be found all throughout UNC Hospital’s new AYA oncology infusion center from resin flower light fixtures above the nurses’ station to forest scenes on window shades.

Another design goal for this space was to create a sense of privacy for patients and visitors coming into the infusion center. Traditionally, patients receive these infusion treatments in a bay setting with other individuals alongside them. Recently, oncology centers have moved away from this design to give patients more privacy. Some centers have moved towards using private infusion rooms, while others have requested dividers between stations to help give patients and their visitors the option to socialize.

For this project, we designed dividers with sliding windows to give patients the ability to choose whether they want to socialize with other patients or have some privacy during their treatment. The users of this center specifically requested to have this ability in the redesigned space.

Having privacy makes it easier for patients to talk to their care team without others hearing their medical information and gives them spaces to socialize with guests. Private infusion spaces also help reduce the risk of infection by keeping patients apart during treatment.

Rendering of Adolescent/Young Adult (AYA) Oncology Infusion Center for UNC Health.

High Point Medical Center 2nd Floor Lobby and Corridor Renovation

To better accommodate their growing population, Wake Forest Baptist Health hired MHAworks to renovate the visitors lobby and corridor at High Point Medical Center in High Point, North Carolina. Renovations for this project were completed in two phases, the first having been completed in the lobby and the second renovation to the corridor.

Both the lobby and main corridor are a point of connection between patients, visitors, health care providers, and other hospital staff. The goal in renovating both spaces was to connect these users with each other and them with nature through interior finish selections.

The emphasis on using elements of nature in the design of the lobby and corridor is not only meant to provide users with a comforting environment but is also meant to serve as an intuitive wayfinding tool to help guide users through the hospital.

The corridor was divided evenly into four distinct sections, each section designed to match one of the four seasons – fall, summer, winter, and spring. Images of fall leaves, blooming flowers, sunny days, and winter landscapes decorate key walls throughout the corridor to help guide users throughout the space.

Wake Forest Baptist High Point 2nd Floor Lobby

As the health care industry continues to evolve, it is crucial for designers to keep up with the current models and trends in the industry to help health care workers provide the best care possible, to comfort and empower patients, and to provide support for the patient’s loved ones.