4 Strategies for Applying a Multidisciplinary Approach to Health Care Interior Design

December 13, 2016

Written in collaboration with American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers (AAHID)



Health care interior designers, by their very nature, are central to every design project. They intersect with nearly every discipline on the health care design team and are especially important to collectively affecting HCAHPS scores relating to noise, cleanliness, and even communication.



Using a multidisciplinary approach to design is important for creating healing spaces where both staff and patients can benefit. The mindset, “we have always done it this way,” is a philosophy of the past. Now more than ever, it is increasingly important for interdisciplinary health care teams to collaborate on a greater scale.

A group of four health care design experts, members of AAHID whom are all CHID credentialed, are proving the benefits of a multidisciplinary approach to design. Their method is supported by evidence-based design (EBD) research results – both existing and self-conducted projects – and is mindful of improving HCAHPS scores. All four health care design experts have used this multidisciplinary approach to develop design standards for their own health systems and have presented their methodology at the 2016 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference.

Follow their four practiced strategies for applying a multidisciplinary design approach to your organization:

1. Find common ground to improve HCAHPS scores.
Many studies show how design teams can affect HCAHPS scores relating to quietness and cleanliness. However, Barbara Dellinger, MA, FIIDA, CHID, EDAC, MDCID, NCIDQ, Director of Design and Research at Adventist HealthCare in Rockville, Md., assisted in improving HCAHPS scores relating to nurse communication by working with nurses, doctors, environmental services, facility management, senior management, and infection control to develop new patient communication boards in all 17 of its pediatric rooms. This served as a test for measuring patient family satisfaction with communication regarding the patient. Since HCAHPS scores increased in the pediatric unit as a result, Adventist HealthCare is now installing several hundred communication boards in all patient care areas of the facility, including mother and baby suites, the ICU, NICU, PCU, and all medical and surgical units.

2. Translate research results into helpful tools and checklists.
Teri Lura Bennett, RN, CHID, IIDA, EDAC, NIHD, Lead Interior Designer, and her team at John Hopkins Health System use a variety of survey forms to engage staff, patients, and family in evaluating furniture items. Survey forms collect individuals’ subjective and objective data, resulting in a quantitative score that can be used to help health care designers make informed decisions. Furniture evaluation surveys, for example, help collect data on cleanliness, noise, safety, and comfort – all of which affect HCAHPS scores. The hospital even evaluated more than 13 “silent clocks,” which included staff testing them in their own homes. Many staff members were surprised that a simple “click-click” could keep them up at night. It goes to show that even small items can leave big impressions on the patient experience!

3. Test products and finishes with mock-ups or focus groups.
Seek and you shall find… the real effects of your health care design. Helen Lanes, CHID, IIDA, NCIDQ, Interior Design Manager, and the consulting design team for Inova Health System have embraced mock-ups and focus groups as methods for testing products and finishes. In one scenario, Lanes and Inova's consulting design team sought to improve the patient experience of those using labor and delivery, post-partum, and NICU rooms. To do so, they collaborated with Inova’s Hospital team, including the Patient Experience Leader, to gain insight into real-time occurrences. They also reviewed Press Ganey results, which showed an opportunity to improve acoustics, sleeping and seating options, room space, and cleanliness. To create the mock-up space ready for testing, Lanes chose technology in flooring and ceiling materials with proven track records that would improve acoustics and safety. By collaborating with the full team, it was clear that selecting “right-sized” sleeper sofas and other appropriate seating options would address comfort for a unique population. She also modified furniture orientation and associated room details to address perceptions of a small space, making the effort to improve the patient experience and create a family-centered care model.    

4. Explore shortcuts to develop and create design standards and guidelines.
Where do you begin when you’re creating design standards and guidelines for a health care facility? Andrea V. Hyde, MDCID, CHID, NCIDQDirector, Design & Architecture, at LifeBridge Health chaired a committee on the 2014 FGI Guidelines whose expertise served to set minimum requirements for health care interior designers and others seeking standards and guidelines for their facilities. Specifically, sections 2 and 3 of the 2014 edition of the Guidelines detail recommended standards for choosing design and surface materials, including flooring, walls, ceilings, handrails, accessories, among others. Using these checklists help shortcut the development of standards and guidelines and are already in line with industry best practices – making it a strong sell to other stakeholders working alongside health care design teams. At Hyde's previous position as a Senior Planner/Designer at John Hopkins Health System, she and her then colleague, Teri Bennett, also one of the co-presenter's in Houston, referenced section 2.1-7.2.3 of the 2014 edition of the FGI Guidelines, and other areas of the Guidelines’ Surfaces and Materials Appendix, during a 90-day, multidisciplinary flooring test. These minimum requirements/best practices guided the JHHS multidisciplinary team’s decision on choosing a flooring option that would minimize slips and falls, noise, and staining. In the end, no-wax, matte shine flooring products prevailed as the winning choice. 

Health care interior designers interested in building relationships and learning with interdisciplinary design teams should consider attending the 2017 PDC Summit in Orlando, Florida. View the full conference schedule, which includes sessions on improving the patient experience.


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