In 2016, there were 2,059 paediatricians employed in Australia. These are the professionals serving, helping and healing Australia’s population of almost 4.5million kids; our children, who are both the apple of our collective national eye, and our future.
There’s no debating that children are different than adults or adolescents. Their biology, physiology and psychology all demand a tailored approach when it comes meeting their healthcare needs. Similarly, the practitioners operating in this necessary field utilise equipment, follow protocols, and interact with carers and third parties on a far different scope and scale than their adolescent and adult oriented counterparts.
As a mother, I want the best for my daughter. As a Healthcare Designer, I want to advocate the best design options to secure a seamless healthcare experience not just for my own child, but for the kids of Australia.
A Tailored Approach
Children are a mixture of resilience and fragility. There are a gamut of psychological, anatomical, cognitive, social and emotional tendencies and behaviours which impact the presentation of health concerns amongst our smallest residents, as well as the way they interact with the healthcare environment itself.
So how do we approach this unique healthcare field in terms of design? Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from the days where paediatric healthcare was viewed as a simple extrapolation of adult treatment.
Family Centred Design
Human Centred Design is design with the end user firmly in mind throughout the conceptual process, technical detailing and delivery of the built result. Family Centred Design is a necessary evolution required for paediatric healthcare environments which acknowledges the patient’s ultimate dependence on an external care structure i.e. the family.
From a Design point of view, the expansion of this focus necessitates additional considerations to adequately meet the need of a more dynamic and expansive care team, with inclusions such as play areas, rest areas and safe furnishings featuring strongly.
The power of Design allows it to directly influence the user experience. In a paediatric sense, where children are naturally more inquisitive, sensitive and responsive to sensory stimuli, the size of the space, the colour theories implemented, and the functionality of the environments provide an extremely tangible platform to make a positive impact and thus optimise health outcomes. By cleverly using design we can create opportunities for ‘distraction techniques’ which are beneficial in the management of emotions and behaviours to make an appointment a little less stressful, and possibly, enjoyable.
A key consideration when planning a paediatric environment is the need to cater for the increased numbers of carers, such as parents, siblings and extended family members.
Space should be allocated for what could be viewed as ‘non-essential aspects’ such as additional chairs inside treatment rooms, recliners or guest beds for carers providing around-the-clock support and supervision for their child, kitchenette facilities, play and areas, toilet and baby change amenities and stroller access throughout. Additional storage will also need to be factored in to cater to increased human traffic and use.
Safety is key. When designing specifically for a user group of under 14’s, it’s critical. Small, investigative fingers, inattention and an insatiable curiosity aggravate the safety risk exponentially in paediatric environments.
Mitigating risks and hazards can be done using furnishing with rounded edges to prevent accidents and injury. Utilising safety glass, barriers, balustrades and low vision-door panels should be considered, as well as the appropriate location of, or restricted access to, power outlets, alarms and handles.
A paediatric environment should be designed in a manner not only to soothe, but also to safeguarding your child. This is not just done by the furnishings and placement of objects, but also the consideration of design in terms accessibility for all users. Issues such as absconding, abduction and other family custody related circumstances should be mindfully allowed for throughout the design to be evident and fully functional in the constructed result.
Play & Leisue
Within a paediatric environment, the main client is quite clearly the child themselves.
Many of these young ones will be distressed and thus create disturbances for others using the space, so provision of suitable entertainment areas and play facilities in and around the facility or practice will therefore cultivate a calming and welcoming environment for all.
The integration of play areas not only act as an engagement tool to distract an unhappy child. They also promote wellness through positive emotion and the resultant physiological response, plus nurture a sense of trust, wellness and cooperation between the practice and the patient.
Although the integration of a play area creates the opportunity for socialisation and relaxation, it should also be carefully balanced with the opportunity for solitude and safety and designed in context of infection control.
Furniture & Decor
Furniture, fitting and décor are important aspects in all design efforts. Each must be carefully chosen to create a productive and welcoming facility, plus also contribute to the goal of easy wayfinding, safe access and determination of inclusive spaces.
The use of age appropriate décor, furniture and art will aid patients by providing a pleasant sensory experience to unhappy or uncomfortable children. Through cleverly chosen textures, colours and shapes, young users will be reassured, and comforted, and conscious and subconscious needs will be addressed to maximise wellness.
The materials used on the flooring, walls, seating and countertops should be made of durable and cleanable materials to assist in managing any infectious controls, vomiting, and other mishaps common amongst children, with stimulating colours interspersed with soothing tones to avoid hyper-reactivity.
Furniture and fixtures should be designed appropriately and selected in anticipation of the various needs and demands of the young user group. The use of graphic and character displays must take into consideration the various patient age groups, as each different group will have different visual prompts. Furthermore, techniques should be implemented to cater for those children and family members whom are visually and hearing impaired.
Décor is not only the man-made aspect of design, but it also refers to the use of natural elements. Integrating plants where possible or having easily accessible outdoor areas produces a therapeutic effect in patients and supports an optimal healing environment.
We love our children and they are our number one priority. Ensuring quality healthcare to meet their needs is essential.
Acknowledging the innate differences in the healthcare industry’s approach to treatment has produced a tangible and evocative response by Designers as they leap to the challenge of creating spaces which address the young patient’s needs in a holistic, yet tactile, manner.
Catering for children requires alternative design aspects to promote the emotional, mental, physical and physiological wellbeing of paediatric patients. Consideration for the unique needs of this growing demographic and adoption of a family focused design creed will provide the positive outcomes we want if we are to truly invest in our nation’s future.
 National Health Workforce Dataset (NHWDS): Medical Practitioners 2016.
 2016 Census
 Children are Not Little Adults: Children’s Health and Environment, 2008
Views, information or opinions expressed within this article are solely those of the author rather than the ‘individuals involved.’ This article does not necessarily represent the official policy or position of any other agency, organisation, employer or company and includes information obtained from third parties. These views are subject to change and revision.
Design your practice for mental health
If you want to talk to a design specialist about how you can design your practice for kids, please contact us for an introduction to Jacqueline Cunningham.