Arkansas Hospitals Health & Science

Designing for Health

Arkansas Children’s Hospital Southwest Little Rock Community Clinic, Team Work Area. Photo by Ken West.

Interior Design’s Important Role in Health Care

By Kim Prescott, Design Manager, Arkansas Children’s Hospital

Can hospital design contribute to healing? Thoughtful design, both of built spaces and the way interiors are finished, positively affects how we feel and function within our surroundings. The ability of interior design to create therapeutic environments has been proven through evidence-based research studies, becoming apparent in 1984 with Roger Ulrich’s seminal paper, “View Through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery.”

The role of Design Director has evolved to become a cross-disciplinary position integrating the artistic skills of design with the practicality of master planning and business acumen that affects an organization’s look and feel through branding.

As part of the Arkansas Children’s team in Planning, Design & Construction (PD&C), I work with project managers and interdisciplinary design teams throughout the design process to ensure end results that effectively represent and integrate established design standards, master planning and the organization’s branding.

Arkansas Children’s President and CEO Marcy Doderer, a leading voice in the pediatric health care industry, inspires me with her commitment to transform healthcare for all Arkansas’s children. This encourages pushing past the role of “interior designer” to becoming that of an “imaginer.”

I enjoy working for an organization that values design as an asset and understands that creation of interior environments meeting the expectations of our patients, their families, our employees and our institutional supporters can inspire healing and reduce the stresses inherent in a health care environment.

We are redefining design in our facilities to create uniformity across our organizational system, which includes our two hospitals, the Arkansas Children’s Foundation and the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute. The goal: build well-designed spaces that contribute to our mission to “Champion children by making them better today and healthier tomorrow.”

Arkansas Children's Hospital Main Lobby, Atrium Mural by Matt McLeod. Photo by Jacob Slaton.

Arkansas Children’s Hospital Main Lobby, Atrium Mural by Matt McLeod. Photo by Jacob Slaton.

Master Planning and Design Standards

Humans now spend 93% of their time indoors – an industry statistic reported by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). With the vast majority of a person’s    especially a patient’s – time spent in the built environment, the significance of design in health care comes into focus. Creating environments conducive to stress reduction and healing is a large part of what we do in PD&C, and working within a master plan is vital.

In the face of health care reform in 2013 architect Gary Vance authored an article for Healthcare Design magazine entitled “Four Reasons to Master Plan Now,” which outlined four points that remain relevant in master planning:

• “HCAHPS scores – reimbursement and cost” – a master plan addresses specific HCAHPS questions related to noise and cleanliness that the physical environment can impact;

• “Operations – Lean and Six Sigma” – a master plan addresses issues of inefficient facilities planning and  proximity of services, staff and equipment;

• “Facilities – availability and spending of capital” – a master plan provides a tool for strategic planning and coordination with facility design; and

• “Infrastructure – building  operations”  – a master plan analyzes a facility’s cost associated with design solutions and planning.

Master planning allows hospitals to develop a roadmap that positively impacts facilities planning as well as short- and long-term operations. As part of master planning, establishing design standards can further enhance the opportunity to maximize use of an organization’s resources.

Design standards include specifications for construction and renovation projects, including common products and materials such as building products, flooring, paint, wallcovering, surface materials, furniture, textiles, window treatments, artwork, lighting and more.

Combined with the master plan, design standards provide valuable planning resources to leadership, project managers and end users that set the hospital up for successful projects.

Arkansas Children’s Northwest Cafe Dining. Photo by Ken West.

Design Standards and the Environmental Experience

Creating an excellent patient experience – and positive experiences for family members, staff and others – is a common focus for health care organizations as they seek to improve quality of care and profitability. Investing time in the creation of design standards helps the design team make critical decisions affecting these experiences, including:

• Performance of interior materials – common products such as flooring, furniture and upholstery must be easy to clean, bleach-cleanable and tolerant of disinfectants;

• Furniture maintenance – furniture must withstand a high volume of usage and be serviceable for routine repairs;

• Noise control – acoustical ceiling tiles, material surfaces, sound attenuation, patient room privacy and staff interruptions all play a role in noise control;

• Infection prevention – design elements, product and material selections, and air and water conditions all directly relate to infection prevention;

• Safety – flooring and lighting specifications, as well as clutter control, can work to prevent and reduce incidents;

• Integrated technology – including items such as registration touch panels, waiting room phone charging stations, over-bed tables with iPads, video game stations and video-projected augmented reality can enhance the patient experience;

  Visibility – space planning determines proximity and sightline of staff to patient;

Environment of Care – waiting rooms, exam rooms and in-patient rooms become a temporary residence for patients and families; design of the environment can contribute to patient care and healing.

Our spaces are not limited only to child-friendly environments. We foster a kid-savvy, but professional environment, with an emphasis on “discovery and delight.”  Our spaces are designed to encourage imagination and curiosity for users of all ages.

I often work in collaboration with our Marketing and Foundation teams, Patient and Family Experience Specialists and Child Life departments to ensure these traits are captured in our projects. We have co-designed projects selecting products, artwork, graphics and messaging for patient care environments. Collaboration is key in providing the best representation of our organization’s branding.

Arkansas Children’s Northwest Imaging Center, Waiting Room. Photo by Ken West.

Measuring Design’s Impact

One of the most overlooked steps in the design process is the post-occupancy review. The evaluation of measurable criteria such as overall user satisfaction, effectiveness of design, space-planning, performance of materials and products, furniture and related factors enables institutions to critically assess the impact of their overall design process.

Feedback should be sought from all users who rely upon the environment, including patients, parents, health care staff and administrators. Understanding expressed likes and dislikes facilitates continuous quality improvement in the processes of design and build. There is value in this design research, and the master plan and design standards can be modified as needed to incorporate changes resulting from lessons learned.

With ongoing trends toward hospitality- and retail-influenced health care facilities, it is instructive to consider what can be learned from other markets in the areas of consumer experience and perception of brand.

Along with master planning and creation of design standards, incorporating data from the post-occupancy review and research of other markets is a best practice step toward improving the patient- and family-centered model of care, using the practice of evidence-based design.

In his book, What Customers Crave, author Nicholas Webb says it well: “What do your customers love? What do they hate? Find the answers, and you’re well on your way to success.”

Kimberly Braden Prescott, ASID, NCIDQ is an Arkansas Registered Interior Designer with 17 years of design experience in residential, commercial and healthcare interiors. As Design Manager for Arkansas Children’s Planning, Design & Construction, Kim creates thoughtful design standards that translate the organization’s branding into the built environment. She has a special interest in healthcare interiors and is dedicated to creating healing environments that enhance the human experience. You may reach her at,  or follow her on Twitter @KimBPrescott.

Arkansas Children’s works closely with design partners including Cromwell Architects Engineers, FKP | Cannon Design Architects, Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, Nabholz Construction and Today’s Office.

The above article is from the Spring 2018 edition of Arkansas Hospitals, a quarterly magazine published by the Arkansas Hospital Association. Vowell, Inc. produces Arkansas Hospitals on behalf of the Arkansas Hospital Association. This article is reprinted with permission.

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