Q+A: Six Reflections on Patient Experience

Authored by HGOR Principal, Steve Sanchez.

When healthcare design is done thoughtfully, the concepts of placemaking are innately incorporated into the design process, creating spaces that facilitate communication and provide a distinct, positive environment for the patients and their caretakers. As we explore the linkages between design and health, we continue to bring better opportunities to vulnerable, overlooked or disinvested communities by incorporating the feedback of patients, family, and staff who’ll be using the healthcare facility into the overall design. A healing environment is essential for a positive patient experience. Desirable elements include access to daylight and views; maximum privacy and control for patients; allowance for family participation and accommodation; and outdoor amenities.

Most patients are inherently social beings who crave interaction with others as a way to build meaningful relationships during their healing process. Chance conversations among patients and visitors often lead to new friendships and support networks around health issues, as well as sharing of knowledge and resources. Designing spaces that encourage these types of random interactions can improve outcomes and reduce a potential sense of isolation. As a planner and designer of healthcare facilities, I consider patient life through the holistic journey environment, and constantly search for ways to holistically elevate the patient experience, both emotionally and physically.

I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Chris Chelette, Vice President at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to discuss developing Hospitals with a vibrant patient experience.

1.    Developing a hospital campus requires a strong vision, backed up by powerful concepts. Can you describe Children’s transformative vision for its new North Druid Hills campus expansion? 

Chris Chelette: Part of our job at Children’s is to look to and plan for the future and we saw that within a decade, the needs of Georgia’s children will exceed the care options we currently have available. We saw this challenge as an opportunity to build a new campus and hospital designed specifically for kids that will allow Children’s to deliver better outcomes and inspire a healthy, active community. We have spent the past several years collaborating with local leaders, architects, physicians, neighbors, staff and patient families to develop a plan and design for the campus that is transformative for the city, community and our patients.

2.    Beyond Medical Buildings, can you describe why incorporating green spaces and sustainable features are so important to the overall hospital campus?

Chris Chelette: Children are at the heart of everything we do, and our goal is to improve patient outcomes and the overall patient experience. Studies shows that access to nature, exposure to natural light and views of nature result in increased pain tolerance, reduced stress, lower blood pressure and decreased pain. We know that patients get better, faster when they have access to sunlight and natural settings. Our campus will have more than 20 acres of greenspace for our patients and families to enjoy healing views when inside and experience the outdoors when able.  

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Master Plan, Atlanta, GA

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Master Plan, Atlanta, GA

3.    Are there specific things about the design of your hospital campus that make an impact to the patient and family experience?

Chris Chelette: We are designing our campus with an intense focus on creating the best care experience for our patients and their families. In addition to acres of greenspace, we will have miles of walking and biking trails on-site, and four times the number of hardwood tress than are currently on-site. Our goal is to make everyday life easier, and families will be able to take care of their everyday needs, thanks to plans to provide services that support parents while their children are in the hospital.

4.    The neighboring community is always a big influencer in hospital development. The plan and programming that you oversee does so much more than just serve the patients and family. Can you share how Children’s contributes to the overall North Druid Hills/Brookhaven community?

Chris Chelette: We want to be part of Atlanta’s future not only by healing Georgia’s kids, but also by creating a healthcare campus that inspires an active, connected community. Our campus will provide a one-mile trail around the perimeter for constant public use and connection to the planned Peachtree Creek Greenway. We are also investing more than $40 million to improve the North Druid Hills intersection, update bike/pedestrian paths, upgrade the I-85 underpass and more. Long term, we hope that we are part of a community and business effort to change the face of North Druid Hills Road into a more walkable, pedestrian friendly environment.

5.      We also know that patient spaces are often critical to the recruitment and retention of staff and potential patients. What are the spaces that have the highest impact on prospective and current patients? And why?

Chris Chelette: Diversity of outdoor spaces is very important to our staff, patients, and families.  Everyone who comes through our doors is experiencing a different emotion.  Our outdoor spaces are meant to nurture these emotions – whether in a large open space for celebration or a small, quiet space to reflect.  We also want to create elements of fun so that kids can be kids!

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Center for Advanced Pediatrics Plan

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Center for Advanced Pediatrics Plan

6.    Hospital staff have the most interaction with the campus. What campus design considerations were made to enhance the working environment for those who may endure several hours a day in stressful situations?

Chris Chelette: The need to access nature is not limited to our patients and their families, so we have carved out specialized areas outside for just employees. These outdoor areas offer a chance for respite without a chance visit interrupting the moment. Our staff will also have access to the full outdoor green spaces and we are also incorporating innovative dining and wellness options on the new campus.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, starting on a totally new site has allowed us to design the campus with pedestrians in mind, meaning our physicians, nurses and staff will be able to walk between the hospital, our support buildings, the Center for Advanced Pediatrics, and any other buildings added in the future. This pedestrian-driven environment will help our physicians and employees spend more time outdoors, which we believe supports stronger outcomes.

2018-10-12-Master Plan Render_100sc_North.jpg

I believe a positive experience can have a long lasting impression on the healing process, preparing him or her to heal and move forward in life.

What action has your healthcare institution taken to enhance patient, family and community experience on your campus? I’d love to hear from you and continue this conversation.