When Corporate Pebble Partner Philips Healthcare is asked to design a medical environment, the group brings a decidedly creative perspective to the table. Leveraging the global resources of parent Royal Philips, the company assembles a multidisciplinary design team tasked with refocusing Architecture, lighting, and technology to create a more positive experience for patients, as well as hospital staff.

The Philips Healthcare Ambient Experience team draws upon talent from a pool of more than 300 professional from Philips Design, including human factors specialists, sociologists, psychologists, interior designers, innovation consultants, and visual trend analysts. Working side-by-side with hospital architects and clinical staff, this team transforms the traditional technology-centric environment into a people-centric one.

Best practices from high-end medical imaging technology, lighting, and consumer lifestyle industries are put to use in Ambient Experience design, introducing innovative elements to transform the space. George Marmaropoulos, design director, Ambient Experience North America, explains the thought process: “People are stressed when they find themselves in an unfamiliar environment and lack control over events that involve them. Our goal is to comfort both physically and emotionally, by designing spaces around perceived needs, with an easy-to-understand layout-using advanced technologies to allow personalization of the environment.”

A holistic design approach

Every Ambient Experience project is a customized solution based on individual institutional needs, guided by four overriding principles:

  • Comfort: create an architectural environment that contributes to the wellbeing of patients and clinical personnel

  • Contact: maximize interaction between medical personnel, patients, and loved ones by decreasing physical barriers

  • Workflow: remove disjointed, cluttered, and isolated work areas that adversely impact staff efficiency and satisfaction

  • Personalization: give patients a sense of control over their experience by allowing them to affect their surroundings

The team helps create this immersive, multisensory experience by using technology to deliver the identified needs and values of all project stakeholders.

Good process is critical

Philips has cultivated and fine-tuned a process to shape the Ambient Experience environment:

  • Research

  • Translation

  • Concept

  • Solutions

  • Evaluation

At the outset, the experience of every stakeholder, every person who is involved in the targeted routine, is studied in depth. From expectation, through treatment, to completion, each pathway and every interaction, is mapped. Patients, families, nurses, and physicians are all quietly shadowed for insight into their emotional and physical experiences.

Wishes and challenges are identified and translated into a list of opportunities for improvement. A visual map of the clinical workflow is created and overlaid with the “experience flow” of each stakeholder. “Hot zones,” where a confluence of events indicates a major need, then become apparent. From this, design concepts emerge:

  • better line-of-site monitoring for nurses

  • areas for sensitive conversations with families

  • an appropriate play or lounge area for children

  • intelligent lighting during patient positioning

Once important experience areas have been articulated, and concepts to address them proposed, a decision is made as to which areas will be included in the current project. Often, a multiphased implementation approach is taken, which can be an appealing option for administrators.

The Ambient Experience design values are then brought to life. “We custom design every experience,” explains Joe Robinson, senior vice-president of Philips Healthcare, Sales and Marketing, Imaging Systems, North America. “We do so by selecting from a series of Ambient Experience technology blocks. These are tested products, ready to be installed, that have been designed in accordance with our philosophy of patient-centric healthcare.”

Chosen technology blocks are integrated into the project space. In a unifying manner, each block becomes part of the overall interior design. You may find:

  • an interactive, illuminated light canvas that becomes a wondrous amusement for children

  • a “kitten” scanner, designed to ease youngsters' concerns about their examinations

  • privacy glass, which switches from transparent to opaque at the push of a button in the imaging and interventional suite

  • a wireless touchscreen theme tablet PC, allowing patients to influence the exam room atmosphere

  • dynamic, projected content for positive distraction during procedures

Minimalistic lines, flush surfaces, and soothing wall colors complete the architectural envelope and tie everything together. The transformation is accomplished.

Lessons learned from prior installations help streamline successive, room-specific projects with semistandardized treatments for imaging suites that have lower price points and shorter timetables.

Indications of positive value

From the earliest installations in 2004, hospitals that embrace Ambient Experience report favorable results. Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Chicago has found that sedation rates in their Ambient Experience CT suite for children aged three to seven years declined 30%, and workflow was positively impacted.

At Catherina Hospital, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, 79% of the clinical teams prefer to do their procedures in the Ambient Experience cardiovascular suite, and 73% of patients suggest they feel more comfortable due to the relaxing design.

At the Florida Children's Hospital in Orlando, the entire pediatric emergency department has been redesigned to provide positive distraction through selectable lighting and projections in patient waiting rooms. Other areas in the hospital are the focus of new design initiatives. Marla Sillman, senior vice-president, administrator, understands how Ambient Experience will play a significant role in defining her hospital. “This hospital will be on the forefront of technology,” she says, “and a model for patient experience that will be truly dedicated to the well-being of children.” HD

Janet C. Ensign, PhD, Ambient Experience Marketing, Philips Healthcare, can be contacted at



The Pebble Project creates a ripple effect in the healthcare community by providing researched and documented examples of healthcare facilities where design has made a difference in the quality of care and financial performance of the institution. Launched in 2000, the Pebble Project is a joint research effort between The Center for Health Design and selected healthcare providers that has grown from one provider to more than 45. For a complete prospectus and application, contact Mark Goodman at mgoodman@healthdesign.org.

Healthcare Design 2009 May;9(5):20-22