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How New Hospital Design Concepts Improve Patient Experiences

Published on: July 25, 2019

In the mid-19th century, Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride modernized how we think of patient-centered healthcare delivery, starting with new hospital design concepts for a psychiatric facility in Weston, West Virginia. The long, rambling wings let light and air into every room combined with comfortable living quarters and areas for recreation were said to provide a unique curative effect. Kirkbride’s forward-thinking “light and air” approach influenced the design of over 300 healthcare facilities throughout North America. 

While the 20th century turned toward shorter patient stays and more community-based care, the need to consider the patient experience remains true today. Simply put, patient experiences within hospital settings can have a healing effect. 

To achieve better health, consumers now have more choice than ever in where, and how, they receive medical services. At the same time, this increasing competition among providers—alongside tightening budgets—drive the need for better innovation in new hospital design concepts to improve patient health and well-being. And, often, it can be as simple as environmental branding. 

New Hospital Design Concepts in Action

Many medical providers are taking advantage of new ideas to increase patient comfort, enhance their branding, and control costs in hospital design. Here are three leading examples of hospitals that have come up with unique ways to implement patient-centered care—within budget.

Patient-Specific Design Elements

For children, entering a healthcare facility can be especially anxiety-inducing. Being wheeled down unfamiliar hallways or asked to wait in adult-centered rooms filled with medical equipment can provoke a child’s emotional reaction and lead to behaviors of withdrawal and at times, tears. Providing them with a clear sense of where they are with child-friendly environmental graphics and wayfinding design can help alleviate that stress. 

Due to the young age of their patients, Advocate Children’s Hospital faced particular challenges in creating a branded wayfinding master plan for two flagship hospitals. So, they started with a patient-first approach to the design by leveraging feedback from patients and visitors before it’s implementation. Electronic questionnaires, stakeholder meetings, and onsite observation helped to better elicit the needs of their young patients and develop the design around them.

The resulting hospital design concept is nothing short of truly user-friendly. Wayfinding panels feature professional illustrations of jungle animals playfully peeking at the children from environmental graphics. These graphics are paired with child-friendly wayfinding language, such as a cheerful lion cartoon on the elevator doors with the “All Aboard” across the top. Now, young patients feel like they are in a familiar element when they walk through the doors. 

Designing for Efficiency and Safety

Hospital design has the ability to radically improve patient care—especially when it comes to the sometimes dueling goals of efficiency and safety. And human-factors engineering is a great place to start. In short, this approach provides an understanding of how people and design elements work together as a system. When both elements are integrated into hospital design, staff performance and patient well-being can be improved. 

Maui Healthcare System knew this when they went to the drawing board to understand how to address a key patient safety issue. Previously, the nursing staff was using laminated papers taped to the outside of patients’ doors to signify different types of isolation protocols. As nurses had to walk back to the station to create a new sign each time a protocol was changed, adding precious time to delivering exceptional patient care.  

So they partnered with an expert signage design firm who immediately recognized the problem based on previous user/ focus work sessions. The firm then implemented a proprietary sign insert system with a slider panel that covered all necessary messages, allowing nurses to reveal only the applicable protocol and a clear insert holder at the bottom with 5 laminated pre-printed isolation message inserts. The ease-of-use that this solution provides increases the likelihood of the protocol being effectively communicated and followed by medical caregivers. 

Environmental Branding Design at Work

new hospital design concepts

While new hospital design concepts like the one at Maui Healthcare System are important for patient satisfaction, prominent environmental graphics that make them feel even more secure. Fresh environmental branding with the patient community’s culture and values in mind can make all the difference. 

At the same time that Maui Healthcare System revamped their patient door signage program, they also implemented new branded wayfinding to help patients feel at ease from the moment they walked through the door. The first lobby entrance design centered on the concept of “Aloha” but feedback from local staff felt that it was not the most appropriate for the patient care community. Instead, in partnership with their design firm, they settled on “E Komo Mai,” which means “Welcome, come in and make yourself at home.” 

Now, when patients and visitors enter the lobby, they are met with a culturally-appropriate greeting and the warmth extends throughout the hospital building. They can make their way through the large building with easy-to-understand color-coded signage, wall, and flooring cues that differentiate different areas, leading people to where they need to go without confusion. Medicinal plant imagery furthers the sense of security and emotional support. 

Environmental Branding’s Role in Hospital Design

Environmental branding combines your wayfinding signage and a building’s architecture into one cohesive user experience. When used in a hospital setting, it can help to create an atmosphere that’s relaxing and familiar, which enhances patient experience. 

Implementing new hospital design concepts based on environmental branding is not an easy endeavor, which is why it helps to get some outside perspective before starting. A design firm with specific expertise in healthcare can guide your efforts by auditing the design of your locations, gathering stakeholder feedback, and suggesting enhancements which will grow with your facilities. The end result is a patient-focused and culturally-appropriate environment where healthcare consumers prefer to get care. 


GNU Group develops comprehensive environmental graphics and signage programs that leverage new hospital design concepts to highlight your brand and make your facility more approachable for a better patient experience.  For more information on how we can help improve your facility’s program, connect with our team.