A hospital stay can often be described as an emotional roller coaster, an experience riddled with loaded expectations, anticipation and uncertainty, moments of fear, and relief when it’s all over. But a real roller coaster—in a real amusement park—should be fun. And in a recent article for Fast Company’s Co.Design website, designer Nick de la Mare of the multidisciplinary firm Big Tomorrow explains why hospitals should embrace the theme park approach.
The idea of a hospital as a 100 percent “fun” place is going to be a stretch for anyone, but as de la Mare says, there’s something to be said for creating a more immersive world that feels like a positive journey, with a bit of magic thrown in along the way. We’re certainly seeing that in children’s hospitals, both at home and abroad: You can read about friendly faces in digital form that follow kids along their way at Juliana Children’s Hospital in The Netherlands and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in England.
Adults are much more difficult to delight and distract. But it’s worth trying. De la Mare talks about experience planning at theme parks that includes varied rhythms—at Disney, he says, “Architects mix ‘decompression zones’ in with the attractions to let people rest before finding something new to explore”—and attention to a “good story” with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
In the examples he gives, his overall point is a good one: “Something that is typically cold and impersonal becomes simple and human, not just while you’re in the building, but before and after your visit, within the larger context of your personal health.” And even in the grown-up world of healthcare, I believe we’re starting to see this approach take root.
I think about my most recent mammogram in a newish center, where even for one simple procedure in a pretty small office, there was a definite journey. From the general waiting room, I was taken to a personal changing room, with a real door and a locker. From there, to another small sitting area outside the procedure room. Then the procedure, an escort back to the changing room, a discussion about what happens next, and clear signage to lead me out when I was ready.
It may seem small, but the details are everything. Soft gowns that cover completely. Comfortable furniture. Gentle, warm lighting. A mirror in the changing room. Clear instructions, prompt service, and the feeling of being attended to.
Was it a trip to Disneyland? Of course not. But I’ve had mammogram visits in the past that felt more like a haunted house. It’s comforting to see that we have a lot more to look forward to just over the next hill.