Along with their vulnerability and their fragility, children have another fundamental characteristic that makes it especially challenging for healthcare designers to create safe and appropriate spaces for them in hospitals and medical centers: Their curiosity.
Nothing comes more naturally to most kids than wanting to explore their surroundings in every way they can. Along with all the same considerations about safety and efficiency that drive creation of effective healthcare spaces, accommodating children’s curiosity is a critical driver in the design of pediatric healthcare delivery spaces that support quality care. At E4H Architecture, we’ve had many years’ of experience in several pediatric health systems across the country learning how best to use thoughtful design to create environments that alleviate stress, provide positive distractions, and promote healing.
Workflow, wayfinding, and service interactions
Designing spaces that accommodate parent(s), children, strollers, bags, and other necessary items per single patient visit is a daunting challenge regardless of the floor plan, budget, and operational flow. Achieving an ease of flow communicates the healthcare system’s thoughtfulness, consideration, and understanding of the patients’ needs.
Healthcare systems are taking it a step further by starting the patient experience prior to patients arriving at the facility. By implementing innovative technologies such as digital pre-check-ins, parents can complete forms in advance to help decrease the amount of interaction with the administrative task as well as the overall time in the facility. These advancements are advantageous from an operational perspective and improve the overall patient experience.
Other concepts that have a similar effect include a central check-in/check-out for multiple clinics and/or digital exam room capabilities. Some systems have adopted the medical campus model that serves as a one-stop-shop including services such as urgent care, primary care clinics, specialty clinics, imaging, labs, pharmacies and physical therapy. The medical campus model is typically included in mixed-use developments, which provides an enormous amount of access and convenience for patients and families in between appointments or while waiting.
Normalizing the experience
Healthcare facilities are often places which generate high levels of anxiety, especially for children. To minimize the potential chaos of a trip to the healthcare facility, it is imperative that a variety of positive distractions exist for parents and children alike. A recent marketing innovation growing in popularity is a playfully designed and decorated “social media wall” for taking pictures and sharing with friends and family. This enables a patient or family member to interact with a supportive online community to share their great experience.
In addition to distractions, designers should integrate bright, gender-neutral color pallets; hard surfaces for flooring; and other durable materials that can take the wear and tear of energetic, curious children. It is critical to design a space that evokes a feeling of normality for the children and families as opposed to a sterile clinical type of space. Residential and hospitality type furniture and finishes help achieve a feeling of calmness. It is important that they function in appearance, yet are easy to clean, as kids easily spread germs unintentionally and are durable to handle a playful child.
Creating a safe space for care delivery
All parties involved must have the children’s safety at the forefront of design. For pediatric facilities, TVs should be recessed into the wall and above reach-height for a child standing on a chair. Counter heights, wall-mounted items, and outlets also require thoughtful consideration for pediatric spaces to avoid bumping heads. Tamper-proof outlets in all patient access areas help prevent children from harming themselves. Handwash sinks located in corridors help patients and staff decrease the spread of infections.
A centralized work space creates an open area that encourages collaborative environments and provide the patients with staff accessibility and visibility. This approach is efficient as it allows for circular flow with meds/labs, triage nursing to be in central core. Visually, the open space with low walls is inviting and creates ease of wayfinding.
Within exam rooms, potential threats to children’s safety abound as well. To avoid risks, cords and utilized outlets must be concealed. Trash cans should be stored in casework with only top or high front access. Wall-mounted medical equipment like otoscopes, stadiometers, sphygmomanometers or monitor screens should be well out of the reach of a child sitting or standing on the exam table. Counter storage of items is strongly discouraged, all items should be secured inside cabinets with tot-resistant locks. Infant scales should be placed only on surfaces without any cabinets overhead. Frosted windows beside entry doors, or fixed low to the floor within doors, are suggested so the presence of children can registered by physicians, nurses, or other staff before they enter, while the children’s privacy as patients is respected. Sheet wall protection on walls should be installed in exam areas and potentially in public spaces as well, depending on population.
Even for routine visits to the doctor’s office, those who care for children want to be confident that the space is safe, welcoming, and – as much as possible – fun for their inquisitive minds. Whether within a hospital, pediatrician’s office, or any other healthcare delivery space serving children, thoughtful and attentive design can go a long way to ensure these places support the best possible medical care and healing for our children.
Michael Smith, AIA, is a Partner at E4H Environments for Health Architecture with more than 24 years in the healthcare design and construction industry. He has managed a wide range of healthcare projects from $4M to over $150M. His distinctive experience allows him to provide a comprehensive approach to all aspects of the design and implementation process, from development and design through documentation and construction.