As healthcare designers, we focus on creating functional and aesthetically appealing interiors that facilitate the healing process. But how can we also design spaces that enable patients to research information and make informed choices regarding their healthcare?

While talking with an HGA colleague recently, I was reminded that the healing process is often about access to information. Patients experience a great deal of anxiety when diagnosed with a serious illness. How they resolve this anxiety depends on how much control they have over their own situation.

My colleague had her own sense of helplessness when she had been diagnosed with a critical illness, had undergone treatment for a year and had subsequent recurrence of the illness. Only after doing some research on her own—finding treatment options and sources for second opinions, and stumbling across an on-line chat room with similarly diagnosed patients—did she begin to feel a stronger sense of control over her healthcare choices.

As she points out, one of the first steps in understanding your illness is taking control for yourself, noting:

  • You have to be your own advocate
  • You need to seek out information
  • You may want to talk to other patients

Information and support are key factors in these three points.

“The fear of not knowing your options and the potential outcomes can be devastating,” she says. “Physicians don’t have the time to explain everything and may be uncomfortable delivering bad news, so you need to find ways to fill in the information gaps and educate yourself.”

Creating accessible community resources centers within healthcare facilities can direct patients and their families to the necessary information they need.

At the newly opened Owatonna Hospital near Minneapolis, for instance, we strategically placed a family resource center in the central corridor across from the cafeteria, aligned with the main entry. A glass storefront façade offers a visually open space that includes computer monitors along high-top tables and comfortable lounge seating surrounding a stone fireplace.

For Regions Hospital Cancer Care Center in St. Paul, we designed a 500-square-foot traditional library with a separate entrance, dark-wood cabinetry, book shelves, computer terminal and library seating where patients and their families can do research.

Most recently, we designed a 19,000-square-foot education center that includes a 150-seat auditorium, 25-seat training room, 110-seat multipurpose classroom and two conference rooms for a hospital expansion under construction at Butler Health System in Butler, Pennsylvania.

While the design approach may vary between resource centers, the outcome remains the same—well-designed resource centers provide options for patients. As my colleague notes, “the importance of education and information are paramount in the healing process.”