Katherine Tse | Healthcare Design Fellow
The design of healthcare spaces is more than aesthetics. Design defines the way we experience and perform healthcare – from the front door to our intended destination, we are constantly affected by the choices made on where a room is placed or a door is positioned.
So, who makes the decision on how our healthcare spaces are designed? While financial constraints, and building codes provide boundaries and limitations, the real experts are those who use the space on a day-to-day basis. Only a patient would know that the windows are too high – they haven't been able to see out of them their whole admission. A nurse would know that the spaces provided for the ECG machine is too small, so the trolley is often sitting out in the corridor in the way of patients transferring. A laboratory expert would know that the medication rooms are too hot for medication storage – due to design. These true experts are vital in providing an operational view to how healthcare spaces should be designed – how spaces interact and could react to changing models of care and technologies.
While having "user groups" is common and becoming standard practice in healthcare design, this can be extended throughout the design process from project initiation through to developed design, and post occupancy evaluation. What do the real users need from a space? What do these users anticipate for healthcare in 5 / 10 / 20 years? What helps and what doesn’t? Did the space fulfil the intended needs? This is an example of 'human centred design'.
Take a look at the Guy’s Cancer Centre in London by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. This project took the approach that a patient group should be involved right from the get-go. From the beginning this team expressed their wishes. They wanted a friendly entrance area. They wanted more autonomy. They wanted their radiotherapy treatment to not be in the basement bunker. Their involvement continued throughout the whole project, ensuring that their voice was not diluted or lost.
The same approach could be made to our own facilities. Excitingly, the Primary Birthing Units is an early example of this where a large public stakeholder investigation was held to determine if 1/ a primary birthing unit would be of interest to the public and 2/ where should these be located. In September 2017 the Waitemata District Health Board gave in-principal approval to plans to establish an urban primary birthing unit. This project is an exciting introduction to a full human-centred design approach to our healthcare facilities. We can learn from this project, understand the impacts and evaluate the short term and long term outcomes of using a human-centred design approach in Aotearoa and consider if this is the direction our healthcare adopts.