As healthcare facilities today strive to create more responsive and needs-specific environments, innovative furniture and design techniques can play a transformative role. Facilities are finding that by converting traditionally stark, clinical interiors into functional, aesthetic, and positive spaces, they can improve patient satisfaction, facilitate healing, enhance visitor comfort, and even increase employee productivity.

The following five areas—priorities across many healthcare facilities today—are being shaped by furniture and design advances, enabling organizations to improve care quality while delivering a superior overall patient experience.

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Residential warmth

To support the connection between patients’ comfort and their therapeutic advances, forward-looking healthcare facilities are taking steps to imbue spaces with residential warmth. Borrowing from the "home away from home" aesthetic that has served the hospitality industry well, these facilities are now reducing environmental stressors—moving away from traditional clinical designs in favor of what is more familiar to patients. The ultimate goal is to create interiors that make patients feel as comfortable as possible while still providing an efficient care model.

To help achieve this goal, more healthcare facilities are incorporating patient room furniture collections, which include matching wardrobes, bedside cabinets, and headwalls—collectively creating a consistent look and reflecting the amenities and aesthetics in a typical bedroom design. The result should be for patients to then make a positive association between their home and the hospital room.

Patient room furniture collections come in a variety of styles that cater to different patient demographics and hospital aesthetics, while encompassing residential subtleties that put patients more at ease. This effect can be accomplished through the use of artwork, sophisticated color palettes, textures, noise reduction methods, and natural light.

In addition, informal lounges and/or café areas within lobbies and hallways can help make an entire healthcare facility more inviting, user-friendly, and convenient to visitors. Outdoor cafés and lobbies, in particular, provide visitors with a sanctuary to check their mobile phones and laptops, relax with a cup of coffee or a sandwich, and, overall, feel more at home.

These locations can be a welcome alternative to traditional seating areas that tend to inhibit interaction. In conjunction with patient room furniture collections and residential design influences, they exemplify a new, progressive model that is positively impacting the patient experience, visitor comfort, and staff productivity.

Personalized patient rooms

Taking design perhaps one step beyond residential warmth, healthcare facilities are increasingly attempting to personalize patient rooms—specifically for their individual inhabitants—as a means to further reduce patient anxiety and stress, while enhancing comfort and overall satisfaction. One way to accomplish this is through the use of pre-arrival patient surveys—inquiring into items such as a favorite magazine, favorite food, and/or favorite color—so patients then can walk into rooms customized just for them.

Many facilities are also leveraging patient communication boards, as well as more advanced digital signage, within patient rooms—personalizing the display with the patient’s name, the names of the doctors and nurses providing care, family photos, the latest news and weather forecasts, and more.

Thus, patients who walk into a hospital room—greeted by a customized message, their favorite magazine on the bedside table, and their favorite flowers on the windowsill—will immediately have a higher sense of comfort about their visit and, most importantly, about the care they will be receiving. Personalizing the patient experience in this way not only reinforces a patient-centered care model, but it also can turn an overwhelming clinical environment into a relaxing one—neutralizing the negative effects of stress and anxiety.

Perfect proportions

As healthcare facilities strive to increase levels of patient care and satisfaction, they also must accommodate the needs of patients’ families and visitors, as well as nurses, doctors, and other caregivers. In the face of ever-shrinking facility footprints, this can be a daunting task. Space is at a premium, and as facilities incorporate decentralized nursing stations and try to fit more storage and supply areas within units, it can become challenging to also utilize space to create comforting, personalized patient environments.

As a result, the scale and flexibility of patient room furniture is a vital factor in overcoming space constraints and their resulting limitations on hospital room design. There is now a variety of new, multipurpose furniture offerings for healthcare facilities to choose from, including sleeper sofas that incorporate solid-surface side tables with built-in data and electrical access, and with underneath storage compartments for linens and pillows.

The use of hybrid products, such as patient chairs that also serve as recliners, helps maximize space. These multipurpose and hybrid offerings are an effective way to increase patient room functionality using smaller-scale furniture—ultimately resulting in more spacious, aesthetic, and productive environments for patie
nts, visitors, and caregivers.

Infection control

Another area where furniture and design can play a role is in infection control. Hospital-associated infections have posed a very serious threat to healthcare facilities, especially with the emergence of multi-drug-resistant organisms. The travel path of infection is unique to each environment and also can affect numerous areas and elements in a hospital, including privacy curtains and furniture.

As a result, hospitals and other healthcare facilities are taking measures to control the severity of these epidemics, and there is an industry-wide focus on determining the most effective ways to prevent and suppress the growth of infection-causing agents.

The number one prevention tool involves providing space for—and drawing attention to—handwashing procedures among patients and staff. Many facilities are making waterless, antibacterial hand sanitizers ubiquitous as well, and are even outfitting their medical professionals with antimicrobial scrubs as another way to prevent germ growth.

In addition, furniture type, as well as textile and finish selections, can have a big impact. By incorporating furniture that is easy to clean and disinfect, such as products with rounded corners and clean lines, and avoiding pieces that hide dirt and dust, facilities can help stem infections. With this goal in mind, high-performance vinyl textiles and Crypton finishes are effective for use in patient, waiting, and exam rooms.

And furniture with antimicrobial finishes, such as the silver ion in wood and metal, inhibit the growth of microbes as well. By educating themselves on infection control through furniture and design, and making a few simple changes, healthcare facilities can help prevent the spread of infection and create a safer environment for patients and employees.

Bariatric care

Implementing furniture and design solutions that accommodate the needs of bariatric patients also is of growing importance in the healthcare industry, and the amount of bariatric furniture specified for public waiting areas and patient rooms is likewise on the rise. The goal is to eliminate feelings of isolation and intimidation with more supportive and spacious furniture, and to promote more effective patient care.

To that end, facilities are increasingly designating certain rooms for bariatric patient use so that all aspects of the room—including recliners, guest chairs, patient beds, and toilets, as well as specialized ceiling lifts—enhance mobility, comfort, and safety, while elevating quality of care. A wide range of bariatric furniture options are available today, typically supporting 500 to 1,200 pounds.

Guiding principles when selecting such furniture are stability and safety—reflected in pieces such as patient chairs that restrict motion and provide back stability and ample arm support, and recliners that have a smaller angle of back movement. Bariatric committees or other healthcare professionals should also tag the underside of bariatric furniture items prior to use as a way to confirm weight limits and ensure patient safety while being discreet. By incorporating this category of furniture, healthcare facilities can go a long way in making rooms more welcoming, putting patients at ease, and facilitating better interactions with caregivers.


As the healthcare landscape evolves—and technology, budgets, patient demographics, and industry-specific challenges change—the effective use of furniture and design can help facilities keep pace. With the proper planning, the process of creating flexible, aesthetic, cheerful, and productive environments can be both cost-effective and well within reach.

With the above trends in mind, healthcare facilities can apply furniture and design to provide patients and other users with a more comfortable, positive experience—one that supports the integral goal of improving wellbeing. HCD

Karen Edmundson is a furniture sales executive for Business Interiors by Staples. For more information, visit