In this series, Healthcare Design asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what’s got their attention and share some ideas on the subject.

Erica Steenstra has a 25-year career in interior design and was recently appointed director of environments for Taylor Design. Here, she shares her thoughts on the sharing economy and care delivery, minding staff work environments, and how medical respite programs can help reduce hospital readmissions.

1. Uber and healthcare

The sharing economy, also referred to as collaborative consumption, has begun to seep into the healthcare sector. Last year, Uber teamed with Harvard Medical School in a one-day pilot program to deliver free flu shots. Uber drivers took a registered nurse to deliver and inject the shot to customers in three test locations (Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.). The consumer convenience of this model as well as the partnership between the two organizations make this idea a compelling consideration for the future of care delivery.

2. Multitasking myth

I read a lot about memory and brain health because I have a family member dealing with dementia and I want to do all I can to keep my brain healthy. Studies at the Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan showed that when we multitask, rather than doing two things simultaneously, we are actually causing our brain to switch rapidly between tasks, such as listening in a meeting and answering emails on your phone. This habit exhausts the brain and dramatically increases the potential for errors. As design professionals, we need to be mindful of providing environments for our healthcare clients to do the focused work that is so critical to the care of a patient.

3. Medical respite programs

When a critically ill person without a home or support network is discharged from the hospital, the readmission potential is extremely high. A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that 67 percent of homeless patients surveyed spent their first night after discharge at a shelter and 11 percent spent it on the streets. The potential of a repeat in this cycle is obvious. It’s costly to the healthcare system and doesn’t deliver sustainable health to the patient. Medical respite programs have been started in locations across the country and have been shown to reduce hospital readmission rates and future hospital days, but more is needed. I can’t help but think what could come from sharing and partnering among design firms, hospitals, crowdfunding, and a collective effort to solve this problem.

4. Laughter by design

Laughing has such a huge potential impact on our health. It relieves physical tension and stress, triggers the release of endorphins, and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. I attended a lecture a few years ago by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, and what struck me most about him and his work was the joy with which he approaches everything. The audience laughed all through the lecture, and the work he discussed embodies joy and humor. Design professionals have the power to bring the gift of laughter into the healing environment through such areas as buildings, spaces, furniture, signage, and artwork—what a wonderful opportunity.

5. New sources for healthy living

Preventive medicine, exercise, and healthy eating contribute to reducing the cost of healthcare. Knowing that access to fresh produce is important but not always possible, an organization called Imperfect (Oakland, Calif.) is sourcing “ugly” produce that would not otherwise leave the farm because it’s the wrong size or shape for the grocery store. Imperfect delivers it to customers’ doors at a cost that’s cheaper than a traditional grocery store. For designers, this speaks to the importance of “systems awareness” and understanding how the built environment is one element in comprehensive solutions that may involve designing for emotion, interaction, and service. Physical spaces structure experience and can support different and healthier choices for citizens against the backdrop of other solution-drivers.

Erica Steenstra

Want to share your top five ideas? Contact senior editor Anne DiNardo at for submission instructions.