Each year the Institute for Patient-Centered Design challenges designers, healthcare stakeholders, and providers to collaborate and submit ideas on how to create better provisions for patients across various healthcare environments. The resulting design projects are thoroughly vetted by experts, reviewed by peers, and filtered down to one submission that’s chosen to be built out to serve as a learning laboratory for future projects—and two iterations of the program are progressing this fall.
Pediatric oncology care
In its 2014 design competition, the institute presented the story of Hendo, a young boy who died of cancer in 2013, at the age of 3. Hendo’s mother, Roze Wille, partnered with the institute in an effort to inspire better design of pediatric oncology spaces by sharing her family’s personal healthcare journey. In response to Roze’s story, the institute received a number of design submissions, many of which were developed specifically to address the challenges faced by families with long stays in the hospital.

The teams behind the top three submissions (as voted by a jury of nurses, researchers, designers, and families) were invited to present their solutions within a virtual reality space set up at the 2014 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference in San Diego. These teams were Erdman (Madison, Wis.), DesignGroup (Columbus, Ohio), and RS&H (Jacksonville, Fla.), each building 3-D models of their designs to allow conference attendees to experience the spaces and select a favorite. With hundreds of votes cast overall, Erdman earned the most. Many voters mentioned that they were particularly impressed by the firm’s creation of a “family bed,” intended to accommodate young patients and their parents during lengthy stays in an oncology unit.

This year, the institute prepares to exhibit the project in a full-scale mockup at the Medical University of South Carolina’s (MUSC) Hollings Cancer Center in Charleston, S.C., with part of the proceeds from the simulation lab going to support MUSC’s pediatric oncology program. "I think the exhibit at MUSC will have a great impact for faculty, staff, students, and clinicians that treat childhood cancer on a regular basis. I hope it will give some insight into the daily struggles that caregivers and patients have while hospitalized for treatment and improve the way care is delivered for these families,” Wille says. The model will be on display Sept. 27-29.
The 2015 challenge
A 2013 research paper published by The Center for Health Design indicated that the current evidence on behavioral health environments is inadequate to influence the design of such spaces. In “Design Research and Behavioral Health Facilities,” authors Mardelle Shepley and Samira Pasha prescribe more research and effective collaboration in this area. To answer that call, the institute’s 2015 design challenge urges the industry to identify new design solutions for behavioral health spaces.

Like previous challenges, this year’s competition is intended to raise awareness of the needs of patients and caregivers living and working in behavioral health environments, and to inspire design solutions that meet those needs. The institute also hopes to identify gaps in design comprehension of the mental health environment, allowing it to respond with resources to promote a better understanding of such spaces.

A team of experts comprised of a researcher, a behavioral health facility consultant, a practicing behavioral health nurse, two former behavioral health nurses, and patient family members has been assembled to review the design submissions and to advise the project as it transitions the winning design from a virtual model into a physical mockup next year.

James Hunt, co-author of the Guidelines for the Built Environment of Behavioral Health Facilities and jury member, says, “The quality of design of behavioral health facilities is vital to the well-being of the patients and staff serving them. Placing a person who’s experiencing severe depression, low self-esteem, and many other manifestations of mental illness into an environment that makes them feel like they’re being punished for being ill or that they aren’t worthy of pleasant surroundings can worsen their condition and make them more difficult to treat. The design professions no longer need to choose between safety and attractive environments. These are no longer an either/or proposition. With the products and design concepts now available, both of these objectives can be accomplished in a design solution that will help the patients be more open and receptive to the treatment that the staff will offer to them.”

Shepley, a Cornell University professor and architect who’s also serving on the jury adds, “Behavioral and mental health patients are expected to adapt to institutional, sterile environments, which would never be tolerated in other hospital settings.” Although progress has been slow, she says, “Best practice, however, suggests that facilities address basic safety as well as an aesthetic ambience, an enriched sensory experience, the opportunity for both social interaction and privacy, visual and physical access to nature, appropriate daylighting, and flexible spaces to allow of the varying needs of patients.” Shepley is currently examining behavioral health environments, with hopes of gleaning insight from this year’s submissions.
Join in
The institute encourages design firms, consultants, academic groups, and clinicians to participate in these competitions. Even those with no prior experience in the areas of focus are urged to review the recommended documents and submit fresh ideas. With a mission to contribute to the quality of healthcare delivery through patient-centered design advocacy, education, and research, the organization is committed to inspire better accommodations for patients.

Like last year, the top-scoring teams of the behavioral health design competition will be invited to present their projects in virtual reality at the 2015 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference in Washington, D.C. The winning submission, as decided by conference attendees, will inspire a physical mockup to be built in 2016. More information on the project is available at ifpcd.org/competition.

Tammy Smith Thompson, NCARB, EDAC, is president and founder of the Institute for Patient-Centered Design. She can be reached at tthompson@patientcentereddesign.org