Spec’d to Stay

By Amy Nichols & Lyndsee Johnson | July/August 2023 Issue | MCD Magazine

As the healthcare industry enters the post-pandemic era, the design focus has shifted to enhancing the patient’s overall experience, while also maintaining an increased level of infection control and disease prevention. Interior design has become center stage in contributing to improved patient outcomes and enhanced well-being through Evidence-Based Design, overall problem solving, and bringing a fresh perspective to more restrictive design standards. The following are some of the latest trends in how furniture and fixtures are being used to improve a patient’s experience in healthcare facilities positively. 

Trend #1: Increased use of high-performance fabrics & materials

An enhanced healthcare environment includes increased measures for infection control, and contract furniture plays a key role in that process. The furniture and upholstery need to hold up to some of the most intense cleaning protocols hospitals have taken, including increased use of bleach solutions and disinfectants and implementing UV light cleaning techniques. All of these practices can be harmful to the furnishings and finishes in the care environments if proper materials have not been specified. The use of high-performance fabrics, as well as polyurethanes, vinyl, and silicones, are critical for the success of these environments.

Furniture designs have also been streamlined to hold up to deep cleaning with reduced seams and opportunities for contaminants to be trapped. SSeaing with cleanouts and solid surface arm caps are becoming more prevalent over traditional upholstered pieces.

Trend #2: Hospitality-inspired furniture & layouts

Healthcare facilities continue to draw inspiration from hospitality environments. Concierge-style check-in/check-out processes with the bulk of information gathering taking place prior to arrival create a different patient experience and flow.

More hospitality-oriented styles have emerged post-pandemic and will continue to be a trend in patient care. Waiting areas have been transformed with the use of a variety of seating options to create a more welcoming and inviting atmosphere for patients and their families,

Traditional tandem seating arrangements are being replaced with smaller clusters of seating and more options for patient privacy.

Chairs and banquettes with high backs or surrounds have become popular for waiting room spaces. Community tables and access to device charging stations also contribute to a more user-friendly atmosphere.

Exam rooms with consultation nooks, where the provider and patient can have a more personal interaction at eye level are becoming more common. Some facilities are opting to go with recliner chairs that can convert to exam tables for ease of patient use and more versatility

Trend #3: Modular systems & flexible furniture

Staff are looking for options to easily adapt furnishings for new uses if a change in the space is needed. Modular furniture and casework that’s designed specifically for healthcare and infection control is becoming much more preferred over traditional contract cabinet construction. Casework modules can be wall-mounted off of the floor so no dirt can get trapped underneath. Cabinetry is engineered for specific uses with curved surfaces, so it’s functional and easier to clean. Modular casework is also easily reconfigurable as needs change in the future.

Modular wall systems have become more diverse in the selection of more affordable. The systems include a variety of changeable panel skins and inserts. Installation of modular walls can usually be installed quicker than traditional construction resulting in faster turnaround and less disruption to existing spaces, as well as cost savings to the project.

Panel skins are often metal, but wall systems could also include glass, wood, or even ceramic tile. Healthcare networks are starting to reap the benefits of modular design and management is beginning to see a return on their investment as they realize the flexibility these systems provide for both re-configured spaces, as well as new construction.

Flexible furniture that can be easily moveable with casters or re-configured is more popular than ever as healthcare facilities continue to change the way they operate. With the rise in telehealth services, consult rooms are serving a purpose for both traditional and virtual consultations.

Furniture with replaceable components makes it easier for facilities to keep up with general maintenance on pieces without having to replace complete products.

As processes evolve, the challenge is keeping healthcare facilities relevant. Modular systems with interchangeable components for hospital and outpatient environments help navigate change by shaping patient rooms, exam rooms, caregiver work areas, and other clinical spaces – all while keeping a footprint compact.

Trend #4: Programming for behavioral health

There has been a greater focus on behavioral health with more people seeking mental health services. In some situations, mental health corridors are connected to the main healthcare facility. In other healthcare networks, behavior health is a standalone building. Designers are challenged with planning for spaces that ensure patient and provider safety while offering a home-like environment that is less institutional.

In the near future, expect to see a greater selection of furniture and fixture products that adhere to strict specifications for safety and durability. Specialized features including heavy-duty reinforced fabrication, tamper-proof fasteners, soft rounded edges, flame retardant materials and pieces that do not include ligature points are critical in the specification of furniture and fixtures for behavioral health.

Every inch of healthcare facilities and clinics has a purpose. Furniture and fixtures play a key role in the care the patient receives. Interior design teams have a passion for and an understanding of how furniture and fixtures contribute to the delivery of healthcare services and patient outcomes.

About the authors: Amy Nichols, NCIDQ, LEED AP, is vice president and director of interiors at Hoefer Welker. Lyndsee Johnson, NCIDQ, IIDA, EDAC, is associate vice president and director of health & education interiors at Hoefer Welker. 

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Written by Anne Holden