Collaborative Approach for Healthcare is Healing
April 4, 2016

The world of healthcare is like many other industries: It requires trial and error before deriving the best solution! By applying strategies often used in the design of other building types, healthcare designers are making advancements. If students and office workers perform better when interior spaces are bathed in natural light, then improved behaviors might also be observed in healthcare patients under similar conditions. Many have postulated that this might be the case and we continue to see the results play-out in hospitals.

Let’s explore this further as we look at examples where these design strategies have been implemented with remarkable results:

The University Medical Center of Princeton located in Plainsboro, New Jersey is a great illustration where creative, collaborative and corroborative techniques were applied to the new $ 500+ Million, 636,000 SF hospital. This modern medical manor focused its innovative and collaborative efforts on the most basic and core component of any hospital: The Patient Room. And with good reason, as hospital-acquired preventable adverse events still occur in the United States far too often.

So, what was improved?  For starters, all patient rooms were designed for single occupancy.   The following are benefits of private in-patient rooms:

  • Patients are more likely to sleep better
  • Patients communicate more transparently with physicians
  • Patients are less stressed and stress can inhibit healing
  • Family members are more likely to surround and comfort their ailing loved one
  • Statistics indicate that family support helps the ill and injured heal more quickly


Many medical professionals now view family members as part of the “healing team”.  They not only provide moral support and psychological stimulus, but they can physically assist the patient with bathroom visits and other in-patient tasks.

In addition, the patient rooms were all made same-handed.  This means regardless of which patient the doctors and nurses are tending to, the bed, sink, medical gas, and other important features will be oriented in an identical manner. Having everything in the same location from room to room demonstrate-ably prevents medical errors.   Other valuable improvements include:

  • Shortening the distance between the bed and bathroom
  • Placing a bed-side hand-rail near the bathroom entrance
  • Adding a double-door pharmaceutical lock box for convenient and secure storage of drugs while being less disruptive to the patient; and finally,
  • Placing a large window in each room


The large window provides natural light and views of beautiful landscapes.  Sunlight and serene vistas have a calming-effect that further enhance the healing environment.  All of these features were built into the rooms for the new hospital, but it all started with a collaborative design effort in a mocked-up patient room.

Medical staff were engaged in the design process for a new and improved patient room. In the old hospital, a room was set aside as a model, an example of what the new hospital patient rooms might eventually become. With guidance from the design team, nurses and doctors moved post-it notes around the room until they agreed that the floor plan, orientation and major design features, were to their liking. This process occurred very early in the design process (2009-2010), years before the hospital opened its doors (May-2012) to receive its first patient. This method of bringing key stake-holders into the design process is very helpful. This process is a 2P Event (Preparation/Process). Borrowed from the manufacturing world where Lean design has its roots, it requires a substantial investment of time from doctors, nurses and hospital administrators along with the design team. The results have been very positive! Nearly everyone involved with the Princeton University Hospital project believes the effort required to “get it right” was well worth it.

Is the finished project a reflection of perfection? No, it still has its flaws (e.g. head board and controls need improvement), but the results are overwhelmingly positive. Ratings of patient satisfaction are in the 99th percentile, up from the 61st percentile before the move to the new hospital. Infection rates and the number of accidents have never been lower. Improving healthcare is an ongoing process. Yet it is highly motivating to see positive results from a project such as this.

Other References:
BioMed Creating a Healing Environment
Harvard Business Review: Better Healing from Better Hospital Design
ExtraWise: Designing for the Healing Environment