I recently had a tooth extracted at my dentist, and the experience had every potential to be catastrophic. Having someone digging around in my mouth on a Wednesday morning with a full day of work awaiting me after the procedure, does not set the stage for a relaxing experience.

Upon arriving at the office, I was greeted by a pleasant receptionist who verified my personal information. After a very short wait, I was shown to the procedure room. The dentist's assistant informed me of the procedure I was being prepared for and what would be happening. My dentist verified that information again before any dental work began. Communication was kept open and clear. I felt like a person.

Then naturally, I started to evaluate the space since I had plenty of time in the procedure room to ponder the world around me. I kept wondering why I only could stare at a ceiling of 2 x 2 lay-in tile, two linear fluorescent downlights, and a vent even though it was obvious that attention was given to the design of the space. The walls had a decorative finish and pleasant color, my chair was oriented to look out the windows, and there was a valence of some sort gracing the window. But the entire time, I stared at ceiling tile and the top of millwork constantly looking for another point to focus my attention.

This was a gentle reminder that as a healthcare designer, there is a need to be reminded what it is like to be a patient. My recent procedure was minor with relatively no pain. What must it be like in an intensive care unit with only a white ceiling and a white wall to stare at? For the sake of cost and efficiency in design, we sacrifice the quality of human health and healing. The healthcare experience needs to be personal. The healthcare space should be the epitome of human-centered design. This approach is so simple in theory yet so difficult in implementation.