Several years ago, an HGA colleague and I decided that to provide the most effective design strategies for healthcare clients we needed to better understand the needs of their clients—the patients.

To do this, we needed to quantify and translate the patients’ perceptions of well-being into healing spaces. We wanted to understand how design affects patients in healthcare environments—what makes them heal and what makes them feel well.

When we knew these answers, we could evoke values in designs that improve patient outcomes and enhance perceptions of care.

More than 1,500 people have participated in our on-going research methodology call the Discovery Design Process™. The results have revealed a consistent pattern that has informed our design process. Some top-10 values associated with wellness include “peace,” “beauty,” “fun,” “friendship” and “human contact.” Top-10 places associated with wellness are “nature,” “home” and “bodies of water.”

Cancer Patients Speak Out

Recently, we sought additional insights specifically from cancer patients to guide our design work with cancer centers. How are cancer patients’ needs similar to or different from other patients? While the cancer patients shared some values with other patients, we noted several unique perspectives:

  • Life. “You could be in the hospital a month and never see anything alive,” complained Kelly. Like most participants who found healthcare facilities sterile, she wanted reminders of life. Participants favored warm, natural colors, textures, fabrics and materials—earth tones, wood, stone, brick, fireplaces, water, sand, and plants. They also wanted natural light and small touches that helped connect them to the “outside world.”
  • Variety. Another participant, Leah, spoke of the boredom from long hours in clinics. She and the others agreed that healthcare facilities needed more variety and distractions—from different colors, materials and artwork to different kinds of spaces and positive distractions.
  • Privacy. Privacy was a priority for patients—especially women—who suffered hair loss from treatment. “When you lose your hair, the last thing you want is to have anyone looking at you,” said Joan. But even when hair loss wasn’t a factor, participants spoke of wanting “places to run and hide” or a desire “to slip into a room and pray.”
  • Control. These patients have been thrust into a situation over which they have very little control. Thus, anything that offers greater control, independence and self sufficiency is highly valued.
  • Hospitality. Another common theme was the desire for more “hotel-like” amenities, including accessible food and beverages, in-room refrigerators and microwaves, more comfortable furniture, and space for personal items.

On a final note, one participant described a treatment facility as a “sort of a dismal spot. But, that’s where the care is. So, I go there.”

Our research has made us more determined to provide patients with facilities that are precisely the opposite of “dismal.”

Putting Patient Perspectives into Practice

These insights have opened our eyes to how we can help our clients create respectful, restorative places that play a positive, encouraging role in cancer patients’ health and wellbeing.