5 Active Health Care Design Features to Incorporate into Your Next Project

Wednesday, October 24, 2017

If you work in a hospital and haven’t been to the gym lately, have no fear – health care designers have your back. Architects are increasingly dreaming up spaces that encourage physical activity in the workplace, helping health care staff lead by example. Active health care design, a concept encouraging staff (as well as able visitors and patients) to take an extra step toward better health by keeping active, is a topic growing in popularity among designers.

If you’re working on an active health care design project, here are the top five elements to consider as you start the creative process.

1) Conducive walking and biking paths
Creatively designed walking and biking paths can help encourage staff, patients, and patient families to move. Inviting walkways with plants and/or natural light also help promote movement. If you have outdoor stairways, add bike channels alongside them so that people who bike to work can get around a hospital campus with ease. To boost activity and your organization’s sustainability efforts, minimize walking and biking distances from public transit. This will help encourage people to take public transportation systems, like trains and buses, instead of driving to the facility.

Blog Image 1: William P. Clements, Jr. Uniersity Hospital

2017 Architecture for Health Showcase photo credit:
William P Clements Jr. University Hospital features beautiful outdoor walkways.

2) White, natural light
Daylight is essential to employees’ health and happiness. A study by Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that office workers with windows get 173 percent more exposure to white daylight during the work day, which helps them sleep an extra 46 minutes a night on average. With more sleep, workers will have extra energy to stay alert and active.

There is also a sustainability benefit for incorporating daylight into health care design. Relying on daylight instead of artificial light will help hospitals save on electricity.

When designing a health care facility, consider adding large windows in common areas to help cultivate a well-rested, happy health care staff - and save hospital energy resources while you’re at it.

Blog Imgage 2: Mercy Hospital Jefferson

2017 Architecture for Health Showcase photo credit:
Mercy Hospital Jefferson is constructed with glass to allow
natural light to flood public spaces.

Blog Image 3: Shibley Memorial Hospital

2017 Architecture for Health Showcase photo credit:
Shibley Memorial Hospital features a light, bright open space.

3) Views of nature and green space
The color green conveys energy on its own, so it’s no surprise that views of nature help boost work morale and activity. When designing a health care space, consider adding windows with views of trees or parks – these scenes help ease employee stress and boost alertness. Studies also show that views of nature help improve patient outcomes and support pain management – helping medical staff feel a sense of satisfaction seeing patients’ health improve. If windows can’t be accommodated in your health care design, consider including pictures of nature or adding indoor landscaping.

Blog Image 4: Penn Presbyterian Medical Center

2017 Architecture for Health Showcase photo credit:
Penn Presbyterian Medical Center rooms have a view of outdoor green space.

Blog Image 5: UCSF Ambulatory Care Center, 5th Floor Heart & Vascular Clinic

2017 Architecture for Health Showcase photo credit:
UCSF Ambulatory Care Center, 5th Floor Heart & Vascular Clinic features sweeping views of San Francisco.

4) Activity-driven incentive programs
Active designs can help hospitals create incentive programs that encourage employees to stay active. For example, including indoor tracks or outdoor basketball courts on a hospital campus may encourage people to take extra steps during the day. Encourage the C-suite to consider rewarding employees for being active by letting them do something that makes their lives easier. For example, if they rack up a certain number of steps per day, reward them with a good parking spot. Many agree that this strategy works best for encouraging activity in the workplace. When you recognize the hard physical work of health care employees each day, it empowers and motivates them to take pride in their active efforts.

Furthermore, empower patients to accelerate their recovery by creating welcoming physical therapy and rehabilitation spaces that encourage them to remain active. Making physical activity as accessible as possible is the key to maintaining motivation.

Blog Image 6: Yale-New Haven Health Long Ridge Medical Center

2017 Architecture for Health Showcase photo credit:
Yale-New Haven Health Long Ridge Medical Center features a state-of-the-art physical therapy space.

5) Open, accessible stairways
When designing for an active health care environment, the goal is to make it easy for people to see active paths – and stairways serve as a great focal point in health care designs. If you’re looking for some inspiration, just view this video showcasing Stockholm’s famous piano staircase - a prime example of how a fun staircase design can encourage people to make the extra step toward better health.

When designing a health care space, include stairways that are open and accessible in lobbies and place stair prompt signage near elevators, which can increase stair use by 50 percent according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be sure to plan ahead for health care building and fire codes, which can present distinct design challenges for open stairways.

Blog Image 7: Yale-New Haven Health Long Ridge Medical Center

2017 Architecture for Health Showcase photo credit:
Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center features an easily accessible staircase.

Blog Image 8: Akron Children’s Hospital Kay Jeweler’s Pavilion

2017 Architecture for Health Showcase photo credit:
Akron Children’s Hospital Kay Jeweler’s Pavilion encourages staff and visitor activity with its grand staircase.

Remember: Active health care design requires a balance between rest and activity. For example, if you have a walking track on your hospital campus, add benches along the way for those who may need to rest.

Applications of active health care design also affect patient satisfaction and can improve HCAHPS scores. For more information, read the American Hospital Association’s HPOE guide, Improving the Patient Experience Through the Health Care Physical Environment.

Do you have a health care design project that you would like to share with the field? Submit your design to the 2018 Architecture for Health Showcase. Applications are due December 15, 2017!


Want to learn more about the cutting-edge trends affecting the future of the health care design? Join more than 3,200 of your peers at the 2018 PDC Summit to network and get the knowledge and tools you need to maximize value in the health care built environment.