I recently attended a presentation by Cynthia Leibrock, MA, ASID, Hon. IIDA, in San Francisco that addressed the unique design needs of different healthcare populations. It started me thinking about the opportunity each and every one of us involved in creating the next wave of healthcare facilities has to leave our mark on the world as a whole and, more importantly, on the experience of an individual. What an awesome opportunity to have a positive impact on so many people whom we will never even meet in person, especially those who are often very vulnerable and afraid.

Fifty years ago, a successful American shoe manufacturer sent two members of its marketing team to Africa to study the prospects for expanding its business. The two traveled together and observed similar things. After a few days, the first person sent back a telegram saying, “Situation hopeless. Stop. No one wears shoes.” The other wrote back triumphantly, “Glorious opportunity. Stop. They have no shoes.” To the first person, all the evidence pointed to hopelessness. To the second person, the same conditions described abundance and possibility.

With so many of the hospitals built during the Hill-Burton era being replaced or remodeled, the landscape that makes up our healthcare system is being permanently altered. The facilities we build today will be with us for decades yet to come. It's difficult not to see the abundance of possibility. Will the environments of the buildings built under your watch contribute to quality of life, empower the building's occupants, and enhance the communities where they reside? Or will they work to disable the very people they are there to serve and add just another monolithic structure to the landscape?

When we use the principles of evidence-based design, the resulting built environment can help improve the quality of healthcare delivery. Through the research done by our more than 30 Pebble Project partners, we have seen that the built environment can have a significant influence on infection rates, safety issues, care outcomes, and operational efficiency. All are welcome contributions to an already overtaxed and overstressed healthcare system.

But how does one grasp the principles of evidence-based design and, even more importantly, be sure to see them through the entire process of building and construction? In several ways: Read voraciously. Attend high-level conferences and seminars available through the many professional organizations like The Center for Health Design, the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Interior Designers, and the International Interior Design Association. Look to peripheral industries for innovative ideas, as well. Make a point of attending the annual HEALTHCARE DESIGN Conference, where an international group of thought leaders—those who have already paved successful paths—come together for four days. Organize quarterly educational programs with a multidisciplinary group of thought leaders in your own community. These activities not only will bring innovative ideas to your community throughout the year, but they also will start to solidify a network of like-minded individuals with whom to collaborate.

W. Keith Davis, AIA, an architect at TRO/The Ritchie Organization in Boston, sent me a quote recently. In just a few lines, it so poignantly lays out the difference between what is and what might yet be:

Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they might have been.

William Hazlitt (1778–1830)

The choice is yours. The opportunity is now. What will be your design legacy? HD

The Center for Health Design is located in Concord, California