Being a healthcare provider of choice is dependent upon many factors: a patient’s insurance coverage, facility location, and brand reputation, among others. Brand reputation, in turn, is the result of the training of your professional staff, the pricing structure of your services, and the way you conduct yourself as an organization. Your facilities can be a strong influencer of brand perception, since they are often a customer’s first touch point with the organization. Today’s consumers want a hospitality-type experience; to be pampered with warm, non-sterile surroundings in convenient locations while feeling emotionally understood and supported during their visit. Two core hospital departments that touch every family during their lifetime are the Emergency Department and Birthing Center. Let’s take a closer look at how these departments can shape consumer perception of the healthcare organization’s brand and ultimately create lifetime consumer loyalty.
Understanding the Consumer
Before jumping into design, listening to your past and potential future patients can (and should) play a central role in shaping the development of your facility. I recently had the pleasure to work with a forward-thinking client on enhancements to their Birthing Center and Emergency Department. Through focus group feedback we listened to the consumer, finding out what is most important during their visit and ultimately shaping operations and the supporting design.
Birthing Patients want a Personal Approach
Birthing center design can make an impact on the patient perception of the healthcare organization, during an important part of the family growth cycle. The uncertainty inherent with the birthing process (aka when babies decide to join the world outside of the 9 – 5 day) already adds challenges to the experience. Entering through the ED is not the desired experience, and often the primary doctor is not readily available. Focus group feedback uncovered that patients want their provider to ‘know’ their back story and preferences – regardless if he/she is the primary physician.
Being greeted with a friendly face that understands the patient’s personality, challenges and expectations for the birthing experience, with easy, pre-communicated instructions on how to access the department can change the outcome. The programming of the space - protecting the perimeter from inside out helps the family feel safe during this vulnerable time. Focusing on the patient’s emotional experience by separating functions (for example patients struggling with fertility and pregnant mothers) or waiting areas can lessen the psychological impact of the visit. Providing adequate and appropriate space for accompanying family members (both within and outside the room) that utilizes warm palettes and hidden equipment, can transport patients and family outside of the hospital setting.
Madison Women’s Health: Hospitality infused waiting environments help reduce patient stress and improve the overall perception of the provider’s brand.
ED Patients want a Navigator and the Ability to Be Shielded from Others’ Experiences
Inevitably surrounding an upsetting event, the visit to the ED can go many ways when it comes to the patient experience. Focus group feedback cited that patients want access to staff who can handle questions and issues during the stay, easing anxieties. A central core design with glass doors allows staff to observe patients, while giving patients quick access to staff. Whether it’s the security procedures to defend the perimeter and provide a feeling of safety during chaos, balancing the amount of trauma rooms to fit capacity fluctuations and reduce time spent in the waiting room, or controlling the patient’s exposure to others through thoughtful separation of low acuity from high acuity care areas – all these design decisions make a difference on the consumer’s perception.
ProHealth DN Greenwald Freestanding Emergency Department: A staff-only core work area allows patients and families to enter rooms from the perimeter, keeping them away from the hustle and bustle of staff activities.
Consumers want it all – extended hours, short waiting times and personalized services – in one convenient location. We are seeing many healthcare organizations we work with make design decisions intended to sway the savvy consumer. Particularly in Emergency Services and Obstetrics, two touch points that are often a patient’s first exposure to the organization, careful planning can improve experiences and activate brand loyalty. Think of the savvy consumer’s preferences – are your facilities positioned to optimize their experience?
Paul Stefanski, AIA, EDAC , LEED AP