Healthcare interior designers often act as advocates for patients by imagining every healthcare environment through their eyes, as well as those of their families and caregivers. This empathy-driven approach is especially relevant in cancer care environments.

Valuable insights and inspiration are gained during visioning and discovery sessions with stakeholders, but it’s often after in-depth patient and family workshops that designers have enough information available to find new ways to improve the patient environment.

However, due to budget restrictions and providers’ competing priorities, it’s impossible to answer all of the ideas proposed. One tool that can be used to determine what are “must-have,” “nice-to-have,” and “can-you-imagine-if-we-had” amenities is a value tree map that helps organize requests according to basic, target, and aspirational goals.

(See the attachment at the bottom of the page to view the value mapping tool created by Array Architects Inc. to direct the interior design of infusion centers.)

Mapping value
In cancer care environments, significant focus is placed on the physical and psycho-social needs of the patient, with infusion centers, specifically, offering an excellent opportunity to explore value mapping with nursing and physician leaders.

Hospitals are generally eager to engage cancer patient and family advisory groups to explore and rank which features are most meaningful to them. By using a mapping tool, a clear set of programmatic and experiential goals with values are assigned to specific characteristics and amenities identified during these programming sessions.

Follow-up meetings ensure that leadership/caregiver and patient/family goals are not mutually exclusive. Following are some examples of how this process might be carried out across infusion center locations.

Reception areas
Since many cancer patients make weekly visits for their treatment, the reception and registration sequence is critically important. Advanced registration is considered a basic amenity, and technology has made it the norm.

Including self-check-in kiosks resulting in no patient wait time is an example of moving up the mapping spectrum to the aspirational level.

Family lounges
A cancer diagnosis also deeply affects family members and friends. Often, the complex feelings and lifestyle changes and responsibilities of being the primary caregiver can be overwhelming. Creating a place of respite for the family member can be as meaningful as creating a calming and supportive environment for the patient. Comfortable seating and access to entertainment and education are considered baseline amenities.

The next level on the value map would offer access to oncology education. Aspirational goals could be achieved by having a full-time resource specialist to assist with research and information pertaining to a patient’s specific diagnosis as well as serving as a navigator for other hospital resources.

Treatment areas
Much has been written regarding patient preferences for oncology treatment areas. Some patients prefer privacy, while others garner support from other cancer patients and prefer to have the option to receive treatment in an open infusion area.

Whether for an open or private space, basic amenities include comfortable seating, entertainment options, and a guest chair. Moving up the spectrum, both private and open spaces should offer light and temperature controls, Internet connectivity, and multiple entertainment options, as well as access to educational resources. With careful programming and planning, infusion areas can also have access to natural light and healing gardens.

Nurses’ stations
While the majority of the mapping spectrum focuses on the patient experience, it’s important to recognize that cancer caregivers are extremely susceptible to stress and burnout. Designing caregiver zones for optimal efficiency and to minimize footsteps is considered a baseline design element.

Team collaboration areas are an excellent example of a “nice-to-have” option. Off-stage areas for respite and relaxation for the entire caregiver team is an example of an aspirational amenity.

Can you imagine?
The value tree mapping tool can support the decision-making process during design and ensure project amenities are considered.

Most hospitals include the following must-haves in their cancer projects: natural light, views and access to a healing garden, a staffed resource center for knowledge sharing, multipurpose rooms to accommodate survivorship programs and community groups, and family lounges on patient floors with access to laundry, nourishment, exercise equipment, art, and furnishings.

But there are plenty of aspirational items that can be introduced to respond to trends like incorporating nutritional and alternative therapy. Examples of include specialized dining, on-site retail, and spa services that provide holistic care for cancer patients.

Post-occupancy evaluations (POEs) are one way to gauge how well design goals are met and exceeded, and a very real way to inform and improve the design of every patient space.

A recent POE revealed feedback from a nurse manager who had been a leader during many patient focus workshops and later faced her own battle with cancer. She shared with the design team that details like colors, materials, art, light, and amenities provided a positive impact on her patient experience and commented that the environment evoked quality, competence, respect, and compassion.

Designers must respect and appreciate every patient and care team that shares their perspectives to help shape healthcare environments that truly support the whole person.

Patricia D. Malick, AAHID, EDAC, Lean Green Belt, is principal and practice area leader for interior design at Array Architects. She can be reached at