Medical office buildings (MOBs), hospitals and other healthcare facilities are on the leading edge of embracing wellness trends in the built environment. This may be because many visitors to healthcare facilities already are under some stress, whether they are ill or simply nervous about an annual check-up. A calming environment that boosts their mood can make it easier for them to visit their healthcare providers, which can have no small impact on their health. As a result, in healthcare real estate, "wellness" often is synonymous with great customer service.
Amanda Heismann Gray, CPM, general manager with Lillibridge Healthcare Services, Inc. in Knoxville, Tennessee, says it’s exceptionally important for property managers in healthcare real estate to think through the entire visitor experience to fully evaluate its impact on patients and other guests. Her approach is to engage all five senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch—throughout the building as much as possible to help visitors more easily navigate the property and help them feel at ease.
She recommends prominent, colorful signs indicating the building floor, and other wayfinding features, such as eye-catching sculptures, to keep visitors oriented. "There are many small, low-cost things you can do to enhance [the] visitor experience," Gray says. "The key is just to keep patient wellness front-of-mind when making adjustments to the building." If an area is ready for a fresh coat of paint, for instance, choosing a calming blue or green color will not necessarily cost more than choosing another color.
Keeping all five senses in mind also can push property teams to think holistically about the experience. Natural light; plenty of living plants; calming music in the waiting areas; comfortable chairs that are easy to get in and out of; and healthy and enticing food offerings can help patients actually enjoy their visits. Gray and her team also try to tailor their approach to the individual office. For example, they recently commissioned a series of professional photographs featuring happy babies for an obstetrics and gynecology practice.
Patient satisfaction is a growing priority for medical professionals, and the built environment can have a big impact on visitors’ perceptions of their experience. "If visitors are enjoying their time in the building, they are going to be far less bothered by wait times, for example," she explains. "We want them to remember the beautiful artwork and comfortable chairs more than that they had to wait 10 extra minutes."
Sarah Bader, IIDA, LEEP AP, principal and leader of the Global Health & Wellness Practice with architecture firm Gensler in Chicago, says she’s seeing more of a movement toward providing healing environments for a facility’s patients and employees alike. "It’s a trend toward combining care with the [general] wellbeing of the patient," she says. "It’s about how you make space better for people and, in the case of healthcare, how you make space better for patients."
In fact, Bader is helping design a space of up to 25,000 square feet within a local hospital where patients will have access to "spa-like" services that may include massages, guided meditation and aromatherapy. "It’s a way to look at the whole spectrum of helping people get better," she says. "There are some real positive impacts a facility like this can have to lower a person’s blood pressure, to make a person relax and to feel calmer."
Bader expects the concept to be a success and for it to catch the attention of other healthcare organizations. The concept, of course, could be added to outpatient facilities, such as MOBs, where providing a wide range of healing options also makes sense. "It’s something that is a unique offering that could provide a health system with an edge on its competitors," Bader notes. "And, such facilities are likely to be operated by people and companies who are experts at providing such services."
Of course, a healthcare facility doesn’t need to add elaborate amenities to enhance tenant wellness. As Lillibridge’s Gray notes, it can be as easy as removing negative stimuli. An unpleasant noise or smell is always a problem, but patients are likely to be especially sensitive to it. Her property team takes extra care to frequently disinfect door handles and elevator buttons to help keep visitors as healthy as possible. "It can be as simple as regularly walking through a space, imagining how a patient is experiencing it," Gray says. "Our decisions can influence whether people have a good day or a not-so-good day."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Bates is associate editor of BOMA Magazine. John B. Mugford is the editor of Healthcare Real Estate Insights magazine at Wolf Marketing & Media (www.wolfmediausa.com).
This article was originally published in the May/ June 2018 issue of BOMA Magazine.