Article Technology in Healthcare

The rise in technology impacts healthcare design in countless ways. Learn about the balance between visible technology and evidence-based design for an approach that conveys credibility and warmth to patients and their families. 

Technology in healthcare: hospital check-in desk

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The shift to a consumer-oriented healthcare model has put a spotlight on the role of technology in every facet of the patient experience across all forms of care, from retail clinics to ambulatory facilities to acute care and rehabilitation.

This rise in technology impacts healthcare design in countless ways, but one important conversation is about visibility: just how much technology do patients want – or need – to see?

“There’s a line there,” explains Charles Sinclair, a designer at Perkins Eastman in New York. “[As a patient] you want to feel like you’re getting the best possible care – the most innovative treatment you can from competent doctors – so you want that technology aspect to be there. But you also want to be in a comfortable environment – a place that’s warm and inviting, not sterile and clinical.”

Visible technology in the healthcare setting clearly excites conflicting emotions in the patient. Patients see it as an indication that the healthcare facility they have chosen is at the forefront of the medical field; that it invests in new technologies and advanced equipment. The implicit message is one of knowledge and competence. On the other hand, too much technology can make a patient feel dehumanized, raising fears that their care will lack compassion, and they will be treated as a number for the sake of efficiency.

Tara McGrath, with Callison RTKL in Fairfax, VA, agrees that the issue is on the minds of healthcare clients anxious to convey their state-of-the-art status. “They want the space to look like it’s technological, but not be daunting for the patient.

Beyond the marketing considerations of negative patient perceptions, there are serious implications for patient outcomes as well. Evidence-based design emphasizes the stress-reducing power of a connection to nature as well as positive distraction. The anxiety patients experience when exposed to unfamiliar, high-tech equipment in the medical environment can actually exacerbate the sensation of pain.¹

Designers are taking a variety of approaches to walking the line between high-tech credibility and evidence-based design. In some facilities, they are turning to a sleeker, cleaner look with the curved edges and space-age feel reminiscent of the futuristic designs of the 1960s.

This approach is clearly visible in Cannon Design’s work for the UC San Diego Jacobs Medical Center, where patient rooms feature a custom-designed sculptural headwall that disguises necessary technology elements.

Color remains a key way to create a soothing healing environment, with the designers focusing on a palette of soft, muted “livable tones” that echo trends in residential design, as well as colors seen in the natural environment of a particular region.

Technology in healthcare color trends swatches

Healthcare designers are also balancing the potential sterility of a contemporary aesthetic with finishes and materials that convey a sense of warmth and natural beauty.

This approach demands materials that have the ability to withstand rigorous use and cleaning while maintaining a warm, welcoming appearance. This requires an entirely different type of technology, but one that is just as important to healthcare facilities and designers. That’s where we come in. Innovation in flooring is our passion.

What about you? What innovative ways have you used to deal with technology in healthcare design?

¹ Tse, Mimi M. Y. BSN, MSc, RN, et al. “The effect of visual stimuli on pain threshold and tolerance.” Journal of Clinical Nursing 2002; 11: 462-469.