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How Design Can Foster Trust in Clinician and Patient Interactions

How Design Can Foster Trust in Clinician and Patient Interactions Banner Image

Today’s patients want more transparency and information from their healthcare providers. This increased desire reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine sneaks a peak at her chart, discovers she is a ‘difficult’ patient, and immediately becomes blacklisted by her doctor. Although this is fiction, it symbolizes a change going on in healthcare where physicians are no longer the sole knowledge brokers dictating the care plan to their patients. A driver of this change is the growing importance of satisfaction and quality of care in retaining patients. With so many healthcare alternatives, creating positive outcomes for patients ensures a greater sense of belonging within the health system, and ultimately enhanced brand loyalty.

Building Loyalty

As technology advances and patient desires for real-time and personal access to data grows, establishing trust is fundamental in the patient-provider relationship. Making the effort to engage patients and readily share information invites them to be involved in the development of their care plan. By fostering relationships, clinicians and the providers they serve are defining opportunities for open communication and trust with their patients. Hence, the more a patient feels engaged in his/her care plan, the better the outcome for the system. 

Improving Outcomes

With the prominence of knowledge sharing, effective communication between doctors and patients is fundamental to creating improved health and clinical outcomes. For providers, knowledge sharing is necessary to make a proper medical assessment of patients, and for patients, there is a need to know and understand medical information to maximize his/her welfare. Often times, physicians underestimate the patient’s desire to know information which is crucial in helping patients decide on a course of action and can disrupt understanding of their care plan. By making the initial effort to listen and understand a patient’s concerns or answer any questions, physicians are creating an opportunity to demonstrate sensitivity and correct any misconceptions for an improved visit. With a better experience and understanding of their care plan, patients’ will be more receptive of and likely to adhere to the doctor’s advice.

Enhancing the Experience

Having worked on over 250 healthcare projects, I have seen many different exam room designs. Gone are the days of meeting in a private doctor’s office; to maximize use and return on investment, today’s spaces need to be multi-functional. The key to creating spaces that support exceptional care is to break down information – sharing barriers, facilitating face-to-face and virtual conversations between clinicians and patients. 

Providing an ideal setting for interactions can improve the care delivery experience for the clinician as well as the comfort and experience of the patients. When starting space planning and design, it’s essential to involve the physicians and staff, using their expertise to deliver a design that supports both the caregiver and patient experience. On a recent project with the Wisconsin Institute of Urology, physicians were involved in every design meeting as decision makers. By using full scale mockups of the rooms, they were able to provide input on what arrangement works for their patients and specialists.

Selecting finishes that are homelike, yet infection-resistant and easy to clean, can be instrumental in improving patients’ impression of their visit and in turn their satisfaction. Also, the arrangement of an exam room has the ability to communicate openness and collaboration. For example, a half-moon table with an adjustable shared computer screen puts clinician and patient at the same level, increases visibility and communicates the transparency of the patient’s record, thereby building trust. The purposefully shared interaction around the monitor flexes to be inclusive when a caretaker or family members involved in the patient’s care plan join the visit.

What’s Your Approach? 

Medical facilities are no longer seen as institutional environments. Patients are looking to cultivate comfortable and trusting relationships with their providers. Providers who are going the extra mile to provide these environments are seeing the benefits of receptive patients who are receiving the information they seek. As the demands of today’s healthcare market are changing, start thinking about the patient experience provided in your organization’s space. Does your space feel sterile and not as friendly as it should? Are you tracking patterns in patient satisfaction? Start planning with your providers and think about what small changes you can make to implement environments that strategically increase satisfaction and positive outcomes for your healthcare system.

The next time your patients want a glimpse of their chart is it going to get them blacklisted like Elaine, or will you turn the screen and openly share information to improve their experience?

Paul Stefanski, RA, EDAC, LEED AP, Senior Design Architect + Associate: Paul is an Architect with over 20 years’ experience, spending a significant portion of his career in healthcare design. He specializes in the integration of knowledge management strategies with design tools in healthcare architecture in an effort to improve the client, staff and patient experience. In addition to his career as a professional architect and medical planner, he is an amateur marathon runner, puzzle solver, kite flyer, and home brewer.

Paul Stefanski, RA, LEED AP, EDAC