What Healthcare Designers Can Learn From Office Design
I’ve seen the future of healthcare facility design and it’s an office. That may be an exaggeration, but the increasing use of wireless technologies and computers by healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat patients requires that we create different types of spaces.
Spaces for people to communicate—as teams, in person, by video, email, texting, or the next latest and greatest technology that is yet to come down the pike.
Ambulatory care centers are poised to become the hub of wellness healthcare—where you go to get all your tests, see your physician, participate in community health events, and maybe even get your nails done or hair cut.
In the old healthcare, your physician sat on a stool across from you sitting atop an exam table. In the new healthcare, you both may be looking at screens, either together or remotely. And it may be a team of caregivers you’ll be interacting with—people gathered around a screen in an office-type environment.
Office work has always been part of healthcare. The furniture manufacturers who’ve been selling office chairs and desks to hospitals have known this for years.
In the 1980s, Michael Brill, an architect and researcher in Buffalo, N.Y., made the connection between office design and worker performance and job satisfaction.
His research and subsequent two-volume work, “Using Office Design to Increase Productivity,” published in 1985, was a game-changer for the office design industry. Brill became a sought-after speaker, giving keynote addresses at all the major office design conferences around the world. In 1991, Wayne Ruga asked Brill to come speak at the now defunct Symposium on Healthcare Design.
“I don’t know anything about healthcare,” he said.
“Go take a look at your local hospital,” Ruga told him. Brill did, and discovered that there was a lot of office work done in hospitals. He came to the fourth Symposium in Boston and, in his trademark red suspenders, gave a talk on “How Design Affects Productivity in Settings Where Office-Like Work is Done.”
Brill told attendees that office-like work is similar in every industry—information gathering, storage, retrieval, manipulation, and communication. And that paper handling, electronic communication, and face-to-face interaction are increasingly important components of healthcare delivery. That’s still true today, although electronic communication is and will continue to change how caregivers interact with patients.
He talked about many of the same things we’re still talking about in the healthcare workplace today: furniture, noise, flexibility, workspace layout, physical comfort, lighting, temperature control. “One of the major contributors to job performance is layout—how well an individual’s workspace is internally designed to support the work he or she does,” Brill said. (Source: Journal of Healthcare Design, Volume IV.)
A healthcare designer I interviewed for a story I’m writing on ambulatory care trends for Healthcare Design’s September issue, told me she’d recently discovered Brill’s work. Going back and looking at the transcript of his talk published in the Journal of Healthcare Design, I realized that much of his research is relevant to the types of workplaces needed to facilitate teamwork and communication—both electronic and face-to-face—in the ambulatory care centers of today and tomorrow.
Sadly, Brill passed away unexpectedly in 2002, but the organization he founded, BOSTI Associates, still exists. An excellent example of evidence-based design, BOSTI’s research continues to inform workplace design—including such pioneering concepts as hotelling and work-from-anywhere—that are now making their way into healthcare. It’s worth checking out.