Posted by Nikki on 23.03.2012

Are hospitals turning into hotels?

I can’t remember how long ago it has been that I had to spend some time in hospital, but what I do remember are vague childhood memories of the surroundings: long corridors, white lights, lots of signs with unfamiliar names, the smell of antiseptics and an unfriendly alien looking doctor.

Today’s hospitals and their doctor’s have certainly changed for the better! If one does an image search for ‘hospital design’, you’ll find many of modern hospitals with plenty of pretty pictures. They are starting to look more and more like hotels. However, as a doctor suggests in a New York Times article (‘Hospitals Aren’t Hotels’):

“Hospitals are not hotels, and although hospital patients may in some ways be informed consumers, they’re predominantly sick, needy people, depending on us, the nurses and doctors, to get them through a very tough physical time. They do not come to us for vacation, but because they need the specialised, often painful help that only we can provide. Sadly, sometimes we cannot give them the kind of help they need.
A survey focused on “satisfaction” elides the true nature of the work that hospitals do. In order to heal, we must first hurt.”

We, as designers, of course, provide our contribution in different ways. Architects and designers have been putting more effort in making the hospital a place to be less scary and more appealing. As mentioned in the Medaesthetics blog, the hope of one of the design studios in the US was that its super-graphics can serve as a pleasant distraction for visitors/patients of the hospital. For example, that it may lead people to discussions that can re-focus their conversation towards something positive and uplifting.

At ID/Lab I’m currently working on the New Royal Adelaide Hospital, designing wall graphics and the signage hardware. A blog source like Medaesthetics is a great inspiration and knowledge source as it has quite an extensive collection of highly-designed health care facilities across the world.

Again, its good to remember what the place is really for: that the people who stay there need to be taken care of. Good wayfinding and clear signage make already stressed people less uncomfortable. Yet, the look and feel of the hospital itself should not overwhelm the actual work that staff perform. It’s really about the struggle of finding the balance between form and function.

If I can help with making a person a bit more comfortable during a difficult time in their life, then that’s the least I can do for them.

Because, honestly, we don’t actually want to spend time in health care facilities in the first place, do we?