How can we design better to improve patient care?

Utilising design to speed up recovery

Healthcare design is no longer a separate arm of the NHS. The evidence is clear: good hospital design – including hospital interior design – means better patient experiences; improved standards of care and enhanced recovery. It can also benefit staff retention by boosting staff morale and productivity.  

“By investing in design in a particular way, you are supporting and speeding up recovery, releasing bed capacity and creating happier staff – who are key to running the NHS – and service users are treated in a way which enhances their recovery. There is nothing new in this; it is just the way in which you encourage healing, and happier staff.” – Beatrice Fraenkel, Chairman, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust.  

Today’s modern hospital design addresses many functions for a variety of users – patients, families and staff.

However, many hospitals – new and old – have been built or developed as buildings that simply deliver medical care, not as deliberate therapeutic and healing environments. 

Design and architecture are not just how a building looks, but how it functions and what experience it provides to the individuals using it. But as healthcare environments continue to grow in complexity, how can the NHS guarantee to build better hospitals? 

What makes good hospital design?

Although the elements of good healthcare design might feel easy to summarise – practical and well thought out wayfinding, big open spaces, welcoming (and tested) interior hospital design aesthetics, access to natural light, green spaces and gardens, clinical spaces that maximise patient safety, reduced noise levels – hospital design is much more complex and often means working with a space already in existence. 

With many healthcare buildings and hospitals in the UK, this can be challenging to navigate, and hospital design teams can feel limited with the options available. 

Patient-centred hospital design

Good hospital design is not just about how a building looks, or just how a building works. 

Both of these outcomes need to blend successfully. 

  • Hospital design should always be led by user requirements (both NHS staff and patient), as well as thinking into the future. Sustainability in healthcare design is key to maintaining an appropriate hospital environment that can work now and beyond its immediate need. 
  • Places that patients (and staff) recognise, such as local landmarks, shopping centres or well-known buildings, have unique design elements. If patients can recognise these during their hospital experience, it can alleviate anxiety, offering feelings of reassurance. 
  • Entering a hospital can be overwhelming and confusing. Orientation and wayfinding signage is an essential element of hospital interior design, benefitting both patients and staff. 

Location is also just as important as design. Unfortunately, many hospitals – new or otherwise – are situated in hard-to-reach or historic locations; for example, if a healthcare facility has always been in a particular site, extending the existing building is often seen as a better option than removing it entirely. 

Yet, the design of a hospital is only as good as the location. In their essay, The Well-Placed Hospital – 2021, Wolfson Economics Prize Finalists Jaime Bishop and Richard Henson, co-founders of Fleet Architects, proposed a “manifesto for the reintegration of hospitals within the town and population they serve, reaping multifaceted rewards for the patients, the staff and the location.”

The team’s extensive research showed how location is critical to enhancing patient experiences, reducing energy use, and ensuring a flexible and positive working environment for the most important NHS resource, the staff.   

How can you ensure for good engagement with your healthcare design team?

  • Engage well with your design team 

“If you take the same amount of money with a good design team that you work well with and the same amount of money with potentially the same design team that you engage with badly, you’ll get less value for money. The cost will be the same, but the outcome will be poorer. If you engage properly, you will get more value for your money from that engagement, and the better equipped your designers are to deal with your design, creating a better outcome and therefore better the value for money.”  – Jaime Bishop, architect. 

In our recent webinar Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust – A Model for Health & Healing, we demonstrated how understanding exactly what you should expect from your design team, and engaging well, will help ensure the best value from your design team.

  • Create a sustainable design board: train your board to drive hospital design 

 Understanding that the NHS board – the corporate client – is all of us, is crucial to ensuring for good hospital design, and good interior hospital design. 

The client is not one person, one voice or one executive. It’s estates, finance, clinicians, patients, architects, landscape architects; the community who will be using the new hospital space. These individuals will have the skillset and experience to help ensure the design of your healthcare project encapsulates a deep discovery into understanding all the end users and the wider strategy of the Trust – now and for the future.  

  • Engage with the team’s initial feelings about what they think a well-designed hospital should be – and build on this. Hospital design isn’t just about what the hospital should look like, but how it works – how it reduces stress, how it impacts patients and staff, how it will be used; and if it’s fit for purpose.  
  • Engaging with your stakeholders early in the design process is key to successful hospital design, as well as creating a sustainable healthcare design team who you, and your stakeholders, trust for future healthcare construction projects. 
  • Encourage everyone’s involvement – it’s not just the architect who should make the decisions. Your designers should be guided by the end users, who will stress test the brief. Only at this point do you have the clarity to enable the brief to be written. 

“Architecture is at its most rewarding when we work closely with building users; clinical and non-clinical – staff and patients. We can solve difficult problems and help to evolve new practices together, while always looking ahead to future opportunities and needs.” – Jaime Bishop, architect. 

Can hospital interior design improve patient satisfaction? 

“We need to design to enhance healing” – Beatrice Fraenkel, Chairman, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust. 

Evidence shows that patients with less stress can experience less pain, and are more likely to have a reduced hospital stay. This means less demand on beds and healthcare providers.  

Patients are happier with the care they receive, which reduces overall health and hospital anxiety. Trust is also increased between the patient and healthcare professional. 

Can hospital design help mental health?

There is a wealth of evidence to support that hospital design affects patient healing. 

According to recent studies, spending just 20 minutes outside can reduce patient and staff cortisol levels by over 20%. Good design for our mental health can achieve this by utilising healthcare design in such a way as to prevent overcrowding patients, increasing patient connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct or indirect nature, and space and place conditions. Reduced noise and better healthcare interior design can also reduce aggression levels, which is equally important for both patients and staff. 

Anxiety reducing design elements could include large windows that let natural light in, garden facing patient windows, the use of natural martials within interior hospital design, and practical considerations like incorporating beds into rooms to allow family members to accompany their loved ones, as well as looking at the benefits of introducing single-bed patient rooms.

Re-watch webinars: health and healing & the journey towards single patient rooms

To re-watch recordings of our recent webinars, visit our Learning Hub.

Here you can access our monthly thought-leadership discussions including The Journey Towards Single In-Patient Rooms with James Paget University Hospital and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust – A Model for Health & Healing



Categories Latest News
Share article
Related Articles

You may also like