After touring the Park Nicollet Women’s Center in Minneapolis last week as part of the Healthcare Design Academy, I can understand why so many patients react with awe and confusion. It doesn’t feel like a clinic—a comment the staff has heard from more than one patient or family member walking off the elevators.

When you enter, you’re greeted with a light-filled space with colorful furniture and seating options, artwork, complimentary beverages, and a wall of windows that offers views to the surrounding landscape. None of these is a new design idea, but the combination here creates such a relaxing and welcoming setting that you can't help but breathe a little deeper and feel a little calmer. (One patient was so inspired by the setting that she did some meditation in the lobby during her visit!)

The organization started planning for a new facility in 2009 and discovered at the time that women were having fewer babies, so it set out to redesign its service offering and healthcare experience for women. Working with AECOM (architecture, planning and interior design) and Mortenson Construction (general contractor), Park Nicollet opened the Women's Center in April 2014 on the fifth floor of the Heart and Vascular Center on the Methodist Hospital campus. The facility welcomes about 450 people a day.

During my tour last week as part of the Healthcare Design Academy, I found several ideas worth noting:

Knowing your audience—New brand messaging that was released in conjunction with the center’s opening included statements like “In real life, my health barely makes the to-do list.” Recognizing that women need convenient, well-coordinated care options, Park Nicollet hosted focus groups with women to identify 15 core preventative and specialty care services that it would offer in the new women’s center. Then, to make it even more convenient, it added Saturday well checks and all-in-one appointment options, where patients can get of their annual wellness exams in one coordinated appointment.

Flexibility of services and design—A hoteling area off the main lobby accommodates a rotating number of specialty services, such as mental health, plastic surgery, nutrition counseling, vascular surgery consultation, and acupuncture, with flexible room options, including standard exam rooms (with and without windows) and consultations rooms. “Not all patents need to be on an exam table,” said Maureen McConnell, manager, Ob/Gyn at Park Nicollet Health Services.

You can’t think of the patient enough—The 27,000-square-foot women’s center has 18 bathrooms. They’re located within each care neighborhood, right outside the ultrasound room, in the lobby, near exam rooms—you won’t need to walk far or wait in line to go to the bathroom here.

Family friendly—The facility also makes an effort to accommodate mothers with children and families in tow—not always a welcome sight in a healthcare facility but certainly more convenient for some women and moms. The open lobby and hallways can easily accommodate strollers. Touchscreens in the exam rooms provide access to a variety of materials, including patient education fact sheets, directions to satellite facilities, and videos to keep kids occupied during mom’s appointment. A bench seat in the exam room was chosen so family members could sit next to patients during consultations.

Give them choices—To accommodate different patient groups and improve flow throughout the space, the main lobby is designed to accommodate families, while two smaller sub-wait areas are available for those who desire something quieter. These sub spaces feature open and semi-private seating as well as consultation areas with staff healthcare navigators and are located in the center of the clinic closer to exam rooms and staff areas.

Happy staff=happy patients—A clean, uncluttered registration desk welcomes patients to the center and is designed to look like the check-in desk at a hotel with an above-height counter to put staff at eye level with patients checking in. Printers and other supplies are tucked neatly underneath or in cabinets behind the desk, keeping them out of sight but still within reach for the staff.

Andrea Winter, director of women’s services at Park Nicollet, said the center set out to redesign healthcare for women. A year after opening, patient satisfaction scores have increased 2 percent (to 93.2) and 30 percent of patients are taking advantage of the multiple appointment option. In addition, Winter said the women’s center is seeing an average of 125 new patients a month. The proof is in the numbers.

The next Healthcare Design Academy will take place August 5 – 6 in St. Louis and includes a facility tour of Mercy Virtual Care Center. For scheduling and registration information, visit