“Reflections” is a new column featuring thoughts and commentary by former HEALTHCARE DESIGN Editor-in-Chief Richard L. Peck.

In her “From the Center” column for this issue (p. 8), Debra Levin, President and CEO of The Center for Health Design, notes the universality of the challenges in healthcare design. All countries face the same needs to enhance patient safety, comfort, and well-being, and they approach this in ways that are mutually instructive. This issue of HEALTHCARE DESIGN-the fourth devoted to international projects and planning-once again demonstrates the truth of that statement.

We've had occasion in the past to note that the American design community has been a driving force in much of the healthcare design undertaken overseas. This is not simple jingoism-project sponsors throughout the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Canada, China, and Japan have acknowledged the influences American designers have had in space planning, single patient rooms, curtainwall technology, use of natural light, and more. Many countries have medical staff who were trained in the United States; they have adopted American standards of clinical excellence and applied these to crafting new facilities. And, of course, the list of leading American design firms engaged in these projects is long and getting longer.

By the same token-and here's where the universality comes in-these countries are teaching us a few lessons. For example, they offer examples of ways to build on modern design concepts to accommodate local mores and family needs. Often exceedingly well-funded, overseas project sponsors often show openness to design concepts that are “out of the box” (sometimes quite literally). They've also shown what can be done when a project responds to a single, unified vision, perhaps that of a highly engaged member of royalty-an approach that Western designers who usually deal with multiple stakeholders and regulatory authorities can find both liberating and frightening.

Sometimes overseas design shows us where our design is heading. I remember visiting Sweden some 10 years ago and seeing modest-sized, homelike long-term care facilities that American developers have emulated more and more in recent years.

To that extent international design can show us the future. But our country has a clear and powerful role in creating that future, as well. If there's a more positive expression of international relations than that offered by healthcare design, I'm not aware of it. HD

Healthcare Design 2009 October;9(10):64