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Healthcare Design: Preventing Burnout And Improving Outcomes

The hospital is not where most people want to spend time. In the stereotypical healthcare facility, harsh lights lead visitors down corridors that reek of bitter antiseptic. Kevin Hinrichs wants to change that.


For 18 years, he’s worked to build high-quality medical care and university learning spaces. (Want to learn more about healthcare spaces? Join us at The State of San Francisco Healthcare on June 22!)

Kevin is now a principal and director of Taylor Design’s San Francisco office. We spoke to him about how technology and design can make hospitals better at helping people. 

Bisnow: Most people don't think of going to the doctor or hospital as a pleasant experience. What are some ways design can make it more bearable?

Kevin Hinrichs: A terrific patient experience is about more than delivering great healthcare—it involves every aspect of a patient’s encounter with the healthcare organization.

Setting expectations for the experience begins well before your actual trip to the doctor. Early impressions are formed from the initial referral, when accessing online information and while scheduling the visit.

The experience of visiting a doctor or hospital can be improved by considering an ideal experience in all aspects of the visit, beginning with the patient’s first encounter—from an easy arrival to the facility, to offering valet service or convenient parking, and having a pleasant and inviting greeter welcome them. This initial experience sets the tone for the entire visit and will affect the expectations for interaction between patient and doctor.

Bisnow: The relationship between healthcare provider and patient can sometimes be distant. Is there any way to reduce this distance?

Kevin Heinrichs: Building and maintaining a relationship between provider and patient is just like any other relationship—it involves both technology and in-person communication. Patients expect their providers to respond to their concerns or questions any time of the day, by whatever medium necessary. The provider’s attentiveness to this heightened expectation helps to form a stronger relationship between provider and patient.

In the design of spaces, we consider the needs for interaction between people as a way to enhance the relationship. Considerations include orientating workspaces for a side-by-side conversation between provider and patient, choosing comfortable and relaxing furniture, and providing large or shared monitors to easily display and discuss information.

Ultimately, open communication and transparency are the best methods of improving the relationship between provider and patient.

Bisnow: Families are often right there with the person admitted to a hospital. How can their stay be made more bearable?

Kevin Heinrichs: Healthcare facilities need to support family members as well as patients. Private patient rooms help reduce hospital-acquired infections, and they also provide a space for family members to settle in, get comfortable and share important time with their loved one. Some hospitals, not just children’s hospitals, allow overnight stays. Aside from increased comfort in the patient room, the healthcare facility can improve the family member’s experience by offering meals or dining options, and access to other conveniences of daily life so they do not have to leave the building. If the family traveled from far away for specialty care, their stay can be improved by offering concierge services such as recommendations for local events, tourist sites or lodging. (Our recent projects for Stanford Health Care and UCSF Medical Center incorporate these amenities.) By improving the experience of the family member, the hospital is also reinforcing the bond with the patient.

Bisnow: How can design help prevent medical provider burnout?

Kevin Heinrichs: Retention of critical staff is a system-wide problem, and healthcare organizations are competing for qualified individuals. As a result, healthcare organizations need to address operational and cultural drivers, plus physical needs for improved workplace strategy. Especially in academic medical centers, this means providing workplace environments that support collaboration, open communication and education. It also means offering space that allows staff to retreat and disengage from the busy work environment so they can relax or exercise—whichever they chose.

Related Topics: Taylor Design, Kevin Hinrichs