The Art of Design Thinking: Injecting Empathy into Healthcare Spaces

Discover how design thinking prioritizes patient needs, staff efficiency, and a connection to nature for better healthcare outcomes.

Imagine walking into a hospital with well-lit corridors, enveloped by green vines adorning the external walls as a peep into Nature, large and tall spaces, and a welcoming ambiance. Wouldn’t it instantly make you feel calm and at ease? Regrettably, most hospitals are quite conventional in nature, like a cold sterile building, long dreary corridors, and the smell of disinfectant.

Bringing in the concept of design thinking in healthcare spaces would mean giving it a human-centric approach. Design thinking, at its core, is a way of thinking that prioritizes the demands of the end-user throughout the creation process. It welcomes empathy, promotes teamwork, and supports creativity. Since empathy is an indispensable element of healthcare as well, design thinking holds the potential in humanizing hospital spaces. Likewise, Nature uplifts our moods, and thus, amalgamation of live species of greens within our habitat is an establishment of connections at our human cores.

Keeping the Patient at the Centre of Care

In a realistic sense, we need to empathize with patients and think from their viewpoint when building hospitals. Creating a home-like living environment with spaces which make the human movement comfortable by considering anthropometrics and switching to smart in-patient rooms to make occupants feel comfortable, empowered, and independent, are some techniques that have proved to be successful. Some other examples include having switch boards close to the beds for self-access; hands-free remote controls that command the bed movement, window blinds, TV, nurse calls, etc. along with patient mobility path, which can make patients feel at ease as well as improve their healing journey.

Accommodating for a multitude of end-users

Though patients are the most important stakeholder, hospitals need to cater to a multitude of end-users- from patients, visitors to doctors, nurses, administrators, and support staff. Therefore, designers today are adopting a more human-centric approach keeping in mind the needs of these strata of people inhabiting the hospital building. Providing rest rooms for healthcare providers on long shifts, using ergonomic chairs in doctor cabins and management staff, having a nurse call system that minimizes their walking distances, in-house dormitories and rooms for relative accommodation and a signage network for ease of navigation. Robotic trolleys and carts have helped to reduce travel distances for kitchen staff; pneumatic chute transport systems for nursing staff, laboratory technicians; and medicine transportation too, within the hospital.

Designing Inclusive Spaces

Furthermore, healthcare designers have the challenging responsibility to factor people from all social classes, abled and disabled patients, patients with special needs, geriatric, and pediatric age-groups, and beyond. Hence application of design thinking acts as a great problem-solving approach.

For example, after we designed the Godrej Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, Mr Jamshed Godrej used a unique approach to evaluate the efficiency of design. Wheelchair being a common site in these facilities, he invited a physically challenged person to navigate the hospital on his wheelchair and without any help. By incorporating this user perspective, the hospital successfully created spaces that accommodate the needs of the physically challenged.

Adding the natural element

In Indian towns where pollution and congestion are common, adding natural features into hospital architecture might help the patients reduce stress and improve their healing. Exposure to nature, such as natural lighting and ventilation, greenery, art installations, acoustics and more, have proved to successfully edge towards wellness.      

Some hospitals that have taken the patient-centric approach

One such example is the recently opened Shrimad Rajchandra Hospital, which is a charity hospital located in Dharampur, Gujarat, has built a sensory garden on its premises that helps patients with dementia, motor disorders, physically challenged young adults in DEIC (District’s Early Intervention Centre), and other debilitating ailments.

We also incorporated design thinking principles while designing the Yadupati Singhania Super Specialty Hospital at IIT Kanpur. Made in a unique fish bone type structure, the facility has a central traffic corridor and wings of eighteen meters grid, which allows ample light and ventilation into every nook and corner.

Emirates Hospital in the Middle East also demonstrates the application of design thinking principles. Scenically located on Jumeirah Beach Road, the hospital is contemporary and elegant in its outlook and boasts of its patient-centric interiors which evoke hospitality, warmth, luxury, and tranquility. With a triple-height entrance lobby that brings in abundant natural light, the hospital also has ample green elements that add to the healing experience of patients.

Design-thinking in hospitals is neither new nor complex; when designers take that extra step to think from the user’s point of view which in return makes the space more inviting and conducive to healing.

  • Written by Ar. Nandini Bazaz, Director – Architectural Services, HOSMAC (Asia’s leading hospital planning, designing and management consultancy)
Ar. Nandini Bazaz, Director Architectural Services, HOSMAC
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