Building a healthcare system that provides efficient and effective caregiving to all its patients is a central challenge to our nation today. At the forefront of that effort are the country's interior designers, charged with creating environments that promote healing for patients and their families. At the same time, these environments must support the work of caregivers, reducing operating burdens and costs while enabling medical staff to efficiently perform their duties. It is against that backdrop that some of our country's most experienced healthcare interior designers have formed the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers (AAHID).

As the demands on the nation's healthcare systems grow increasingly complex and diverse, we recognized that it was time to codify the collective knowledge gained over the past quarter century by experienced interior design professionals working in the healthcare field. No other specialty in the interior design profession demands the depth and variety of knowledge required to create effective healing environments. AAHID's goals are to establish standards for the unique profession of healthcare interior design and to pass on our accumulated knowledge to the next generation of healthcare design professionals.

The 50 founding members of AAHID who were inducted into this important new organization in June will guide its initial efforts. Over the next year, they will work to establish standards for professional training, excellence, and experience, as well as examinations for advanced certification for designers working in the field of healthcare interior design.

The distinct challenges of designing interiors for the wide range of healthcare settings, from acute care facilities to senior-living facilities to physicians' offices and healthcare retail establishments, require that interior designers master a sophisticated body of knowledge about health, safety, and public welfare requirements, as well as the human and medical needs of patients and caregivers in these unique environments.

The growing diversity of caregiving facilities and the emergence of research on the importance of the environment for healing, health, and safety are placing new demands on interior designers. Healthcare interior design as a specialty is not taught in any college or interior design school, which means that interior designers must acquire a vast body of knowledge on the job, through years of experience and, too often, by trial and error.

By creating an organization to support healthcare design professionals with continuing education and a formal certification program, AAHID will make it easier for interior design professionals to acquire the knowledge necessary to design effective and efficient healthcare environments. It will also enable them to demonstrate their specialized expertise and the value that knowledge delivers to clients and their peers in related professions.

One particular area of focus for AAHID will be America's aging population, which will place new and complex demands on the nation's healthcare system. The rapid growth in the number of aging patients with a wide range of healthcare needs will place a huge responsibility on interior designers to create more effective living and healing environments for them. AAHID will be at the forefront of those addressing these needs.

AAHID will deliver many other benefits to the entire healthcare industry. It will:

  • Provide continuous improvement in the interior environment for patients, families, and staff through the application of evidence-based design research. This is an ongoing process that will improve the quality of all aspects of healthcare spaces relative to aesthetics, function, and efficiency.

  • Be a resource for healthcare administrators seeking interior design professionals who are truly qualified through certification, thus providing assurance that the administrators are working with dedicated healthcare design professionals. This will ultimately save time and money, and it will assist administrators in attaining their long-term goals.

  • Be a resource for manufacturers of healthcare products who need to know that they are working with credentialed design professionals who understand the unique needs and requirements of healthcare facilities, thus assuring them that their products will be applied correctly, yet creatively.

As their first task, the founding members of AAHID will develop an examination that will be used in the certification process. Their goal is to conduct the first advanced certification exams in April 2006 in conjunction with the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exams. The first reference guide and study lists for the new certification exams will be available in November at HEALTHCARE DESIGN.05, the conference sponsored by HEALTHCARE DESIGN magazine and The Center for Health Design in Scottsdale, Arizona. Interior designers sitting for the exams will be required to have at least five years' experience working in the field. The intent is to offer testing for healthcare design certification twice yearly in concert with NCIDQ, which will administer both exams.

Healthcare is a complex field, and constant changes in medical technology and procedures require a continual learning process for healthcare interior designers. Like the medical profession with its distinct specialties, interior designers working in the field often specialize in designing for specific healthcare environments. Each profession—medical and healthcare interior design—requires a body of knowledge unique to that healthcare specialty. AAHID's continuing education program will be developed to enable designers to acquire that knowledge and continue to deepen their expertise in the face of the ongoing changes in medical technology. Experts in the many aspects of medical care will be an important teaching resource for these efforts. Representatives from industry, professional design organizations, and the academic world are also important contributors to the development of AAHID programs. Their generous donation of time and willingness to share their knowledge will be instrumental in helping to make AAHID a living and continually evolving organization.

Healthcare interior designers play an important and, until now, often unrecognized role in creating environments conducive to healing. Healthcare facility clients want the best for their facilities and their patients. They want to find and engage designers with specialized training that solves their problems and addresses healthy solutions. The formation of AAHID will give new visibility to the profession. It will also provide new opportunities for its voice to be heard in forging the future of the nation's healthcare system. HD

Dan Lee is President, Board of Regents, and Louise Nicholson Carter is Vice-President, Communications, the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers.