Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

October 2012    |    Volume: 44    |    Number: 10

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial and Engineers

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Health Systems by D. Junell Scheeres

Industrial Engineer’s monthly column about health systems (October 2012) 

Patient-centered facility design

In highly competitive environments, organizations that clearly differentiate themselves as “patient-focused” will attract and retain more patients and their families. As financial reimbursements become more dependent on healthcare consumer perceptions, facility planning teams should enhance the physical environment of care in ways that directly contribute to patient satisfaction. IEs working in healthcare should become familiar with how patients may react to their facility.

Future patients will consider the caliber of caregiver communications and responsiveness, the cleanliness of rooms and bathrooms and noise levels around rooms. They will take into account how well their pain was managed and how clear were the medication explanations and after-care instructions. So a logical start would target communication infrastructure, patient room finishes and nursing floor features that affect acoustics.

Healthcare facility design needs to include myriad information technology considerations to meet patient and caregiver needs. Interactive data sources can link patients and their families to their healthcare information. Bob Herman’s October 2011 article “12 Elements to Support a Viable Health IT and Tele-health Infrastructure” on Becker’s Hospital Review website provides insight into how IT supports care delivery. Health systems should base their communication infrastructure on an integrated IT strategy designed to enhance the patient experience, improve population health and reduce costs.

A few years ago, a facility renovation project revealed to me how complex it was to pick finishes and surfaces. Infection control, patient safety and maintenance are essential considerations when choosing room and wall finishes. Teams can select from a wide array of innovative, colorful and safe products designed to evoke homelike features and still meet patient safety requirements, thanks in part to organizations like Planetree. Planetree ( is a nonprofit organization focused on patient-centeredness in healthcare. It is known as an advocate for patients and even offers awards and recognition to facilities that demonstrate patient-focus in their design and delivery.

Focusing on both finishes and layout design can minimize the noise generated on busy nursing floors. Industrial engineers can partner with facility planners to select the right combination of features to facilitate a quiet and efficient care setting.

Facility design can foster a positive patient experience. In the June 12 Health Facilities Management magazine cover story, “High Tech, High Touch, Advanced Engineering Supports Hospital’s Environment of Care,” author Amy Eagle highlighted design features at Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame, Calif., that were intended to “make the buildings and spaces within the buildings as healing as possible.”

Designers used materials and colors that conveyed a sense of warmth and approachability. The interior design maximized the use of natural light and provided exterior views that emphasized natural landscaping and offered long-range views of the San Francisco Bay. Seating arrangements in places like the emergency and surgical departments were organized to facilitate family conversations. It is clear from these efforts that facilities are learning to take the patient experience seriously.

One day soon you may be asked to support a facility design effort. It may be a relatively small layout redesign, a major expansion or renovation or the complete design of a new healthcare campus. Whatever the project, health systems engineers have many ways to influence the design of patient-centered facilities in a positive way.

D. Junell Scheeres is president of LS2 Performance Solutions LLC and is a lean Six Sigma master black belt with more than 25 years of industrial engineering experience improving healthcare in the military, public and private sectors. She is a Diplomate and previous board member of IIE’s Society for Health Systems. Reach her at