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"Human-centric" design makes health care friendlier

Anyone who's ever had to navigate a confusing hospital complex or request health records from a provider has probably reached this conclusion at some point: our health care system wasn't designed for patients.
And generally, they're right. Health care design has tended to revolve around the concerns of physicians, insurers, and attorneys, but arguably the most important stakeholders, patients, have largely been left out of the process.
That's contributed to a deficit of consumer-friendly design in healthcare, from stressful buildings to impractical technology. "Patients have been treated as the recipients of care instead of the consumers of care," says Kai Worrell, president of Worrell, an industrial design firm in Northeast Minneapolis, which specializes in health care.
The good news: that's starting to change. There's a growing awareness among insiders that health care lags behind other industries when it comes to providing a high-quality customer experience. And with patients starting to play a more active role in where their health care dollars go, there's an effort underway to make some consumer-centric changes.
Around the Twin Cities, a new wave of creative design, from architecture to technology, is aiming to improve the patient experience in healthcare.

"Human-Centric" Design
Worrell calls it "human-centric" design, and interest in the concept is evidenced by the thousands of views on the company's YouTube page for a short film it made on the topic. The video follows a conversation Worrell arranged between a cardiac physician and an ICD patient. They met at Worrell's innovation lab to discuss the "information imbalance between physician and patient." What came out of the session was a concept for a mobile tablet device that would link patients with their doctor, as well as personal medical data.
Whether it's remote-monitoring technology to reduce clinic visits for heart implant patients or a needle-free, wireless drug-delivery system that frees patients from being tethered to IV drips, Worrell's design revolves around ethnographic research methods. Worrell describes them as a cross between anthropology and investigative journalism. It basically involves spending lots of time observing everyone who will be affected by the design, from nurses and doctors to patients and their family members. They take a holistic view of all the stakeholders, rather than focusing narrowly on a particular clinical result.
"We're hoping to spread that ideology," says Worrell.
That's where the video comes in. The company debuted the seven-and-a-half-minute film in September at a "body computing" conference in California. Since then it's logged over 5,000 views. One of those views came during a keynote presentation to 6,000 clinicians at an Institute for Healthcare Improvement event.
The medical industry is very good at treating specific conditions, but it often fails when it comes to catering to the whole person, says Worrell. The hope is that his company's message about designing with patients in mind will lead to better treatments and better patient experiences.

Digital Distractions
This isn't your parent's hospital lobby. When families walk into the new University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital (which opens later this month), they'll be greeted by a blast of brightly colored retro-futurism. There's no bland, boxy rows of chairs; no stale magazines on rectangular tables. There's no corners at all. It's all wild, circular lounge furniture.
One focal point is a 10-by-6-foot digital screen the shape of a flattened souvenir penny. The display juts about three feet out from north wall and scrolls the names of hospital donors. It's also linked with three smaller, round LCD touch screens that include a photo-booth game that displays snapshots on the big screen after they're taken.
The installation is the work of Sensory Environment Design (SED), a Northeast Minneapolis AV, lighting, and digital signage company. "The premise was the element of distraction" for patients and their families," says Shane Seira, president of SED.
HGA Architects solicited ideas from SED a couple of years ago for ways to incorporate a digital element into its lobby design. Coming up with ideas was the easy part. The hard part was paring them down into something that would fit into a realistic budget, says Seira.
The large screen scrolls donor names and resizes them based on the size of their gift. The smaller, porthole screens allow adults to tap on hospital history, donor information, and testimonials. And for kids, there's a set of three touchscreen games or activities. One is an animal hide-and-seek game, where kids need to spot the animal in a scene. Another is the photo-booth game, which sends photos to the large display.
The third game is a drawing activity, in which kids can use the touchscreen to paint get-well cards or other coloring pages and then either email them to someone or send them to a nurse's station, where they are printed and delivered to patients staying in the hospital.

Color-Coded Navigation
Coloring is a central to a design innovation at Smiley's Family Medicine Clinic in southeast Minneapolis.
HGA Architects came up with a color-coded "way finding" system for the clinic. It still has signs and room numbers, but it also uses colors on the walls and in the carpet to help direct people to where they're supposed to go.
"In a clinic, patients can get lost pretty easily, and we've got a pretty big space," says clinic manager Liz Miller.
The color-coded system has made it easier to direct patients, made it easier for nurses and doctors to find the correct exam rooms, and helped patients better identify with a group of doctors and nurses who know them best.
Since Smiley's is a teaching clinic, its physicians aren't on-site full-time. Sometimes they're off teaching classes and other times they're taking part in rotations elsewhere. That's posed a problem for getting patients to identify with a single doctor, says Liz Miller.
The solution: three teams of practitioners, each assigned a different color (green, orange or purple). If a patient's primary physician isn't available, they're assigned to see another member of the same color team.
Rachel Hendrickson, the project architect with HGA, says the colors are distinct for helping to direct people, but they're also "cozy" colors.
"It doesn't feel like a clinic, per se. It feels comfortable and warm," says Hendrickson. "Way-finding was the driver, but in turn we used [colors] to facilitate to make this a homey, comfortable, overall great patient experience."

The "iPod of Clinics"
University of Minnesota physician Jon Hallberg challenged Perkins+Will to design the "iPod of clinics," something that would be as simple and easy to use as it is pleasant to look at. He got his wish with the Mill City Clinic.
The 4,000-square-foot family medicine and primary care clinic opened two years ago in the Zenith Condominium building, across the street from the Guthrie Theater. Architects took advantage of the high ceilings and glass exterior walls, directing natural light throughout the space.
A reflection of its neighborhood, the clinic doubles as an art gallery, hosting a rotating collection of art from the Nina Bliese Gallery. A piano sits in the main waiting room area, and concert students are regularly invited in to perform.
It's not one, big, revolutionary idea that makes the clinic's design distinct. Rather, it's a series of small touches, little things that are routinely overlooked in healthcare settings. The furniture looks more like it belongs in a living room than an institution. All of the scary looking exam equipment is tucked away in a cabinet in each exam room, which were designed to emphasize conversation space.
What made the project different to work on was that Hallberg and the U of M Physicians had more vision and fewer rules than most healthcare clients, says Jennifer Somers, an interior designer with Perkins+Will.
"What's unique about it was the willingness to try something different, whether it be different materials or a different approach," says Somers.

A Big Deal in a Small Clinic
The Mill City Clinic is small and simple, but it's generating some big interest among designers, providers and patients.
The clinic has exceeded its expected patient volumes. It won a FAB award from the International Interior Design Association in 2009. And the clinic and its designers are fielding questions and visits from larger healthcare providers in town that are seeking to incorporate creative, patient-centric design ideas.
"I think there's going to be a lot of changes coming, and other providers are going to get on board," says Somers.
One local provider recently held a design competition, seeking ideas for the future of exam rooms from local designers. She's fielded multiple calls from providers who want to see or learn more about the Mill City Clinic's design.
"It has piqued a lot of interest," says Somers, "which is just amazing because it's just this little clinic, but it has so much to it."

Dan Haugen, former Innovation and Jobs editor of The Line, is a Minneapolis-based freelance journalist who writes about business, technology, and environment.

Photos, top to bottom:

Fun at the hospital: the interactive digital wall at Amplatz Children's Hospital

Reporter Dan Haugen talks with Worrell Inc.'s Kai Worrell about the firm's diverse designs.

The NeoChord minimally-invasive heart-surgery tool, designed by Worrell

Colorful color-coding at Smiley's Clinic

Goodbye, institutional beige: The Mill City Clinic's art-conscious interior

All photos, except NeoChord, by Bill Kelley
NeoChord photo courtesy Worrell, Inc.

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