Flip No. 19

Rebuild, rethink, and reconfigure the clinic’s design

Make medical facilities work for the people who use them.

By Flip the Clinic

Before opening their brand new hospital in 2009, a small group of administrators and care providers at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh sat down to discuss the principles that would guide their new facility. They’d spent a long time interviewing patients, parents, and employees of the hospital.

What they realized was that from the time someone walked into the door, the environment drained patients and visitors.

Between alarms and beeping and overhead announcements, the onslaught of noise was relentless and stress-inducing. The environment was inflexible: patients had to wait in a designated room and stay there until they were called. Patients were in a bad mood long before they ever made it into the exam room. For their new hospital, the group decided every decision had to A) make patients feel continuously connected to the outside world, and B) allow patients to be in control of themselves and their environment.

The framework helped launch a truly innovative care center that’s a pleasant place for people. But it doesn’t take a complete overhaul to design a friendlier environment. Even little changes can dissipate stress and give back control to the patient. Good design can help providers work more efficiently and patients heal more quickly. From small investments to massive overhauls, here’s a range of tools that will make the clinical environment a more positive one. (A growing collection of visual examples can also be found on FTC’s Pinterest page).

Reclaiming the Physical Environment


  • Sherry Reynolds

    Group Health Cooperative in Seattle and Swedish Medical Center in Issaquah both recently built new clinics and ER’s in which they essentially eliminated waiting rooms. The GHC clinic exam rooms have two doors to them – one for the patient to enter and one that opens into a staff area (think of Disney) so there are public and private locations and patient flows.. They also bring the lab right to the patient on “wheels”..

  • Michele Geiger-Bronsky

    The Wellness Center of Door County was built with clients in mind…from the moment the front door opened, the setting was welcoming, staff wore professional street clothes, satellite music, fireplace and single serve coffee brewer featuring beverage options were present to promote comfort. Exam rooms were tastefully decorated with artwork including vintage pieces that would follow a theme eg NORTHWOODS room included vintage skis, snowshoes and fishing/camp/lodge look; DOOR COUNTY room featured a collection of framed vintage postcards, photos and vintage advertising items from former businesses, CHILD/TEEN room featured skateboard, surfboard, etc. We also built in a drive-thru window for pick-up of prescriptions/supplies, etc. Clients loved our ambiance and the model of care we provided.

  • Michael Painter

    Michele and Sherry–those are both fantastic examples of smart practices using design thinking to change the clinic–flip it from waiting and clinical–to welcoming and actually healing. I wonder how much input they got from their clients, patients, customers as they designed these spaces? I personally don’t know. It’s also funny–that these spaces sound like one might not even mind “waiting” or spending time there–interesting. Any pictures you could share?

  • Jennifer

    The hospital I work at is currently building a new patient tower to expand and improve patient care by offering all private rooms. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is one of the units that will relocate to the new tower. I’m so excited to be a part of this transition in healthcare for our tiny babies. This Flip the Clinic No. 19 is an awesome idea! To rebuild, rethink, and reconfigure the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is just what were looking for. Every infant will have their own room with the equipment they need. I like the idea of “Reclaiming the Physical Environment” especially “Noise” in the unit. We are currently an open unit with rows of infant’s placed side by side with only curtains available for privacy and noise. When a baby cries, monitors alarm, or when family members and staff are talking, it can be very loud for our babies causing a disturbance in their quiet minimal stimulation environment needed for growth and development, and stress resulting in a decrease in physiologic stability. So when we relocate into the new tower we can take this Flip the Clinic idea and rethink about how to decrease the noise level in the new unit. Having private rooms will definitely help decrease noise but we can look at other things like equipment alarm noises, and chatting in the unit. We can involve parents as well to help reduce noise levels. We can then rebuild our ideas and finally reconfigure the ideas.