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Becoming a Provider of Choice Through People-Focused Design

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I recently had the opportunity to co-present at the ACHE-WI Annual Conference with Dr. Omar Atassi and Angela Gilfillan of the Wisconsin Institute of Urology (WIU), and Steve Tyink of Miron Construction. Our team recently completed a new Ambulatory Surgery Center and Clinic for WIU, an independent private practice, and we discussed strategies for improving patient, provider and staff experiences with thoughtful healthcare design. In our presentation, we described how the practice’s brand identity and engaged staff culture contributes to positive patient experiences and clinical outcomes – lessons that also apply to specialty service lines and outpatient facilities within larger healthcare systems.

In today’s crowded healthcare market, patients are becoming more autonomous in their decision making and acting more and more like consumers. Specialists can no longer rely exclusively on referrals from primary care doctors, and must now add physical location, brand reputation and online presence to their business plans. At WIU, offering a convenient, single location that’s highly visible for clinic exams, diagnostic imaging and a spectrum of procedural services was a key driver; especially for the many patients who were traveling great distances for care because of their clinical reputation. Previously in two leased facilities and performing procedures in multiple locations, the new space combines these services into one building. This consolidation effectively reduced patient confusion, length of care visits, stress on staff and inventory needed. It also more closely reflected WIU’s brand and mission to provide the best clinical care possible in the most supportive work environment possible, further differentiating their brand and patient experience.

Starting at an early stage and under Dr. Atassi’s leadership, the WIU physicians were engaged from the beginning and heavily invested in the design process. “We aspire to demonstrate a sincere commitment to our patients and team,” Dr. Atassi said. Key team members at all levels contributed to the project’s vision (often at very early morning meetings, specifically scheduled to avoid disrupting patient care!). In addition to making it an enjoyable process with a dedicated and unified team, this type of engagement led to some creative, people-focused design solutions in staff work areas. For example, call center staff, usually relegated to windowless areas, were provided with a skylight; reception staff were given sit-stand desks for healthy ergonomics while interacting face-to-face with patients; and the staff break room is daylit and colorful, providing a true respite during pause times. In a trickle-down effect, we believe that a positive staff experience results in a positive patient experience.

Although the WIU team is unique, there are several key design elements to improve the patient experience that can also be applied to other healthcare settings. Wayfinding was simplified through having a central nurse station surrounded by exam rooms. Not only are the entrances and exits of each pod visible from all exam room doors, but staff can quickly and easily visualize any patients or family members who appear lost or confused and offer assistance. Exam rooms, which we refined at WIU using a full-scale mock-up, place all necessary work areas within easy reach of the patient and eliminate the typical clutter. Additionally, a discreet separate exit from the ASC promotes patient privacy and dignity post procedure. Solutions like these can be determined for any healthcare facility by consciously asking, “Who are our patients and staff, and what do they think about? How can we make their experience better?”

Healthcare environments can solicit strong, instant emotions in people, so it’s important to understand how people feel, or how you want them to feel, before starting a design. Regardless of project type – be it specialty care, inpatient facilities, etc. – focusing on people-centered design results in more positive experiences for everyone. As was the case with WIU, by taking thoughtful steps and knowing who they are and what they have to offer, providers can set themselves apart in the competitive healthcare market while caring for those they serve as well as employ.

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