Can I Help You With That Door?
Since I started covering healthcare design more than a year ago, I’ve become much more observant during any doctor's appointment or hospital visit. Basically, the concerned family member in me is asking questions about medications and growth charts while the editor in me is trying to uncover all the details that designers and architects have put into a facility.
What type of flooring did they choose? How does the layout of this waiting/family/patient/exam room add or detract from my experience? Is there access to natural light?
Recently, I’ve been researching waiting room trends and during a recent visit to an orthopedic office (with my husband who decided to pull the ultimate April Fools’ Day joke by breaking his collar bone), I couldn’t help but notice some design flaws in what appeared to be a relatively new medical office building (MOB).
1. First and foremost…did they forget their patient population!
During the hour my husband and I spent sitting in the waiting room, we saw a healthy population of elderly people with walkers, a man in a wheelchair with an ankle that had been recently operated on, a woman in a full-leg brace, a few on crutches, and more than one patient sporting an arm brace or sling.
Yet, this office—this orthopedic office—had heavy wood doors with the kind of hinges that make them hard to open and then start closing the minute you let go. This included the office front door and the main doors leading back to the exam and physical therapy rooms.
When you’re maneuvering on crutches or assisted by a walker, you need to move at your own pace. Those doors, however, were going to close regardless of your age or condition. I cringed more than once and several of us leapt from our chairs to hold open those doors for a number of patients.
2. There was no privacy.
Inside the intimately sized waiting room, nearly every patient and family member was privy to the conversations between front desk staff and patients. One wheelchair bound patient even had to have a prolonged conversation with his insurance provider in the middle of the room, while simultaneously keeping his composure and putting a bag of ice on his ankle.
3. Misplaced amenities.
This room had the obligatory TV blasting daytime game shows and there was no way to escape the noise/distraction. An ill-placed coat rack in one corner put personal items hanging above a few unlucky people. And considering that the room had a constant flow of patients and family members, I think an oversized magazine rack wasn’t a great use of space—two more chairs would have been appreciated by more than one family.
Once we got out of the waiting room and into an exam room, the rooms were surprisingly spacious and filled with natural light. The doors opened and closed by human force (not by some pre-set door hinge). For the first time during our visit, I wasn’t nervous someone might be further injured during their visit.
Designers, architects, facility planners, and owners have a lot of details to cover on every project—decisions that impact a patient’s health and experience. At the top of that list is remembering who you’re designing for and knowing that patient’s journey—from the parking lot to an exam or procedure room and back out again.
While other patients and family members in the office that day may not have been making similar observations on door types or layouts, they did struggle to move within this office and showed signs of relief when help was offered.
As I was sitting there, I couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened if one person on the design team for this office had sat in a wheelchair or grabbed a pair of crutches and gone through the steps of being a patient here? For starters, I’m certain the front door would be a lot easier to open.