Traditionally, the design of healthcare facilities concentrated solely on the accommodation of the physical requirements of the space and service delivery, whilst consideration of intangible benefits to the main users of the space were often overlooked. Through modern advancements in the understanding of how the design and layout of healthcare facilities produce therapeutic impacts have resulted in a better appreciation of the users’ needs 1.
The layout of a healthcare facilities is now an extremely critical aspect in the design consideration for any healthcare facility. The successful layout design is a direct influencer to a successful workflow of the healthcare facilities main users; the staff and the clients.
The layout and the workflow are essential components in a successful healthcare environment as it not only allows staff to perform at an optimum level and increase their service delivery, it also provides ease to their everyday functions. Within any working environment, if the space encourages and caters to the way the employees perform their daily activities, greater productivity will result from this and ultimately have a positive influence towards staff attraction and retention.
The basic benefits of a good layout design and good workflow
A good design consideration and implementation of layout within the healthcare environment offers numerous benefits to both the staff and the client’s functionality and workflow.
The facilitation of greater efficiency is an extremely significant benefit from the result of a good environmental layout design. The layout and workflow offer staff an ease in their working environment, allowing for better efficiency as they have all they need at their fingertips. Furthermore, a great layout design coupled with excellent wayfinding produces better efficiency in clients as they find an ease in understanding where to go; mitigating stress and delayed appointments2.
The increase of quality in service delivery is another significant benefit from having a good healthcare environment layout. Essentially this is due to the better workflow reflecting and validating the activities performed in specific areas and orders2.
Inclusive of the benefits of efficiency and quality, a well-designed layout will be able to adapt to future foreseen changes such as staff and clientele growth, as well as promote auditability and measurability in the healthcare centre’s processes.
Layout design effect on staff and patient safety
Patient and staff safety has been considered as one of the most critical aspects in the healthcare facility design process. For patients, an environment in which provides a safe space for recovery influences reliability and trust, mitigates stress and anxiety and provides successful recovery terms1.
The design consideration of a medical centre’s layout is increasingly important in healthcare environments specialising in mental and behavioural disorders. Elements this includes is the restriction of accessibility, which offers staff service areas where patient are not allowed to enter; highly supervised areas, such as corridors, counselling rooms, interview rooms, and designated smoking areas; general supervised areas, inclusive of lounges and activity areas where patients can socialise with minimal supervision from staff; minimal or unsupervised areas, such as patient long-term stay sleeping rooms and restrooms; and lastly, administrative areas, such as the admissions and reception area, examination rooms and seclusion rooms1.
These outlined elements of safety depend on the supervision variables that the patient receives from the staff on a day-to-day basis. A hospital’s, and other healthcare centre’s, layout design, in which is based on an assessment of staff and patient safety, can aid employees in terms of supervision and reduce the risk of potential medical errors.
Understanding the traffic
In order to design and implement a good layout in a design to influence better workflow and safety, it is best to first facilitate a clear understanding and idea of where the clients and care givers will be entering and exiting and making sure that these areas are clearly marked with appropriate wayfinding design and signage if necessary.
This development of a clear understanding will ensure every-day foot traffic is able to freely flow. This is critical in areas such as the reception and waiting room where multiple individuals will be present at one time, as it will prevent a “bottle neck” of traffic, which can be quite off-putting and stressful. If necessary, it may be worth considering designing the space to incorporate a separate exit and entrance to keep traffic moving in one direction; this will also be able to ensure patients to flow through a visit without unnecessarily making them cross paths with other patients or retrace their steps2.
Further focusing on the needs of patients and care-givers, a good layout design will also take into consideration the seating arrangements within the waiting area. Design is not only about creating the space to reflect aesthetically appealing furnishings, it is also about comfortably accommodating visitors.
Obtaining the right sized furniture with the correct measurements to fit the space is essential, however it is also recommended to consider the volume of visitors expected on the business days and ensuring that there is an appropriate amount of seating in the space; whilst also not looking too cramped and crowded to avoid uncomfortable waiting times2.
When arranging the seating, leaving space for visitors to move around freely is an important consideration, as well as placing the furniture in different configurations to appeal to different personalities and visit types. For example, large families may want to sit together, therefor offering a “café-style” lounge area would more beneficial rather than separate single seating which may result in the family being separate and inhibiting the traffic flow of the space.
The layout and design of healthcare environments are just as important as the equipment used within them. It is critical that medical professionals whom are looking to refurbish, relocate, expand or establish a new healthcare space to understand that the layout and setup of the space can affect the overall function and success of the space.
A good layout design is imperative and should offer staff a sufficient space to manoeuvre and perform their consultations and procedures productively, with minimal disruptions. The right stations should be located in the right locations, and walkways and areas with opening cupboards should have ample space to assist in storage. This influences the right workflow and mitigates medical errors and stress and increases trust and reliability within the patients.
Furthermore, the foot-traffic of the space should be carefully considered and designed in alignment with wayfinding to offer a single route of direction where possible, minimising any interruptions and path crossovers between patients and increasing overall efficiency.
All elements discussed are just simple considerations, however the importance of a good layout to influence a good workflow within staff and patients has astronomical effects on the success and perception of the medical environment; ultimately being the potential factor effecting attraction and retention.
Disclaimer: Views, information or opinions expressed within this article are solely those of the author. 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.
1. ZHAO, Y., MOURSHED, M. and WRIGHT, J., 2009. Factors influencing the design of spatial layouts in healthcare buildings. IN: Dainty, A.R.J. (ed) Proceedings of the 25th Annual ARCOM Conference. Nottingham, September 2009, accessed October 29.
2. Erwin Nooteboom, 2014, Vital Health Software, “Workflow in Healthcare”, accessed October 26.
3. Brad Will, 2015, BTOD.com, “How-To: Layout And Design The Perfect Waiting Room”, accessed October 26.