The healthcare facilities market continues to experience revolutionary change. Many factors contribute to the evolving nature of healthcare facilities and their ability to contribute to effective patient care, such as new technologies, volatile reimbursements, and consumer demographics. At the same time, healthcare providers place increasing emphasis on delivering patient-centered care and promoting a healing environment.

The convergence of these and related trends makes it more important than ever that every professional involved with a healthcare facility bring a depth of experience and qualifications to his or her area of expertise. This is especially true in healthcare interior design, increasingly recognized as a distinct, certifiable field.

The unique challenges of designing interiors for a wide range of healthcare settings—from acute care facilities to gerontology settings to physicians' offices and healthcare retail establishments—demand that interior designers have a sophisticated body of knowledge about health and safety requirements and the different needs of patients and caregivers in these unique environments.

There have always been sociologic and physiologic needs for certified healthcare interior designers. Interior design firms, however, have historically looked to on-the-job training as the primary means of professional development. In addition, the industry typically hasn't developed certification for particular sectors.

The complex healthcare field, marked by constant changes at every level, requires a continual learning process for healthcare interior designers. As designers further specialize in specific healthcare settings, the need for knowledge and understanding becomes even greater.

The rigorous regulations of healthcare facilities top the list of trends affecting the need for qualified healthcare interior designers. Laws that they must understand and know how to design for include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

HIPAA affects design relative to patient privacy in areas such as registration, patient rooms, and waiting rooms. Monitors in shared patient rooms, for example, must be placed so they can't be viewed by anyone other than the patient and medical staff.

The ADA has been in place as federal legislation for years. Increasingly, states are adopting and regularly updating their own ADA-related regulations. Interior designers have to be well versed in both federal requirements and those of their particular state.

Led by the aging baby-boom generation, the public has higher expectations about receiving a quality healthcare experience at every step in the process. The interior design of a healthcare facility goes a long way toward helping people feel they are receiving superior healthcare. At the same time, designers need to factor in a variety of considerations—especially budgetary—that affect their ability to provide high-end design.

A number of specific populations in the healthcare realm also affect interior designers. For example, the aging population requires acute care facilities that accommodate an increasing number of long-term care patients, which has design implications distinct from those of traditional hospital settings. For instance, additional floor space is typically required for equipment associated with serving geriatric patients. Another trend brought on primarily by older patients is the development of “boutique” facilities serving patients with conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Designing interiors for these facilities requires specialized skills. With more than 30% of the adult population considered obese, bariatric patients are another population that interior designers must account for.

Reimbursement cutbacks through Medicaid and Medicare represent still another area that healthcare interior designers must understand. As not-for-profit hospitals continue to struggle to find money to rebuild and redesign, administrators put much of the responsibility on architects and designers to find approaches that are less expensive, yet still deliver on their expectations. These reductions in payments have led a number of physician groups to develop private hospitals that serve patients who can pay for a higher level of care. In fact, interior designers must be able to design for environments that target both the wealthy and the indigent.

Underscoring all of these trends is the strong movement in healthcare design toward promoting a healing environment. Fabrics, furnishings, and artwork are among the solutions for interior designers as they seek to create a setting that emphasizes patient-centered care and creates a positive experience for patients and their loved ones.

To help ensure that these and the many other healthcare trends are properly addressed by the interior design profession, the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers (AAHID) was formed in June 2005. AAHID is a professional organization dedicated to establishing standards of professional training, excellence, experience, and examinations for advanced certification for designers working in healthcare interior design.

The first advanced certification exams were held in April 2006 in conjunction with the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exams. To qualify to take the exam, interior designers must have at least five years' experience working in the field. New inductees who passed the exam were honored at a ceremony at NeoCon 2006.

The examination process is just one of many ways that AAHID works to advance the profession of healthcare interior design. Over the past year, AAHID has participated in numerous activities to promote a better understanding of healthcare interior design. Representatives have written articles or provided expert commentary for stories in trade publications, as well as participated in seminars as speakers and panelists.

AAHID's plans for the coming months include codeveloping activities for which interior design professionals can earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs), in conjunction with other organizations such as ACHA, ASID, IIDA, and The Center for Health Design. The CEU activities will provide advanced-level learning opportunities to AAHID members in specific areas of healthcare design. AAHID's Education Committee held its first meeting in June. New committees have also been formed to work on communications and the examination. More questions will be added to the examination, which will also be redesigned and reformatted, twice yearly.

Interior design plays a critical role in the delivery of effective healthcare across all healthcare facilities. Advancing the healthcare interior design profession is the mission of AAHID. HD

Dan Lee, AAHID, AIA, ASID, IIDA, is President of the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers (AAHID). To learn more about AAHID, contact Luann Wilkinson at

luannwilkinson@aahid.org or visit

http://www.aahid.org.