Proportion can go a long way. Anyone who’s stayed in a pint-sized New York City hotel room knows that. Somehow, if the bed, desk, and armoire are arranged just so, the tight accommodations can achieve a homey feel with separate and distinct zones.

So it stands to reason that the same principle couuld be applied to patient rooms.

I sat in on a pretty interesting session at the Healthcare Design Conference in November, where architect Ryan Cameron of DLR Group shared some of the research he’s been doing on the effects the patient room environment has on patients and staff, and how proportion, specifically, plays a role in individual responses to a space.

Cameron was the first to admit that, so far, the results are inconclusive. But what he has been able to document provides some food for thought.

Research was conducted with the help of several major hospitals, where patients and staff were asked to compare physical rooms at the facilities and a series of four different virtual room models. The virtual rooms range in size from 275 square feet to 400. However, the goal was to gauge perceptions based on how the rooms were zoned rather than on size alone. “The study wasn’t as transparent as asking, ‘What does 400 square feet feel like to you?’” Cameron said.

While the virtual room options vary in size, the interiors are similar, from color to art to furnishings (albeit, furnishings are scaled based on the size of the room), and showcase a hospitality vibe. Using open-ended questions about the spaces, the study worked to measure satisfaction and see if there actually is a one-size-fits-all solution.

Overall, the virtual rooms were preferred to the existing spaces, patients wanted larger rooms while nurses looked more for access around the patient bed, and most respondents selected Virtual Room #2 at 350 square feet as their favorite, offering a more traditional layout with well-delineated staff, patient, and family areas.

But what’s interesting to note is that despite having a 400-square-foot option, the favorite was still the 350-square-foot room. And those surveyed responded favorably to aspects of the smaller rooms, too—and that’s where proportion comes into play. As the industry trends toward expanding patient rooms, it may be time to also consider the added cost to build and maintain those larger spaces, and potential alternatives.

So what if by scaling the patient, staff, and family areas appropriately, the desired effects for all can be accomplished in, say, a 275-square-foot room?

The hope for this project is that based on demographics and responses, we’re not too far from realizing how age, gender, background, education, etc., might affect perceptions. And if those results could be formatted into a chart, then hospitals have a decent shot of predicting what type of space might be best for a particular population.

I'm not sure if we'll get to a place where hospitals build a variety of patient room types so that upon arrival individuals can be placed in the space that best suits them, but the technology available today certainly allows for virtual rooms to be "built" to assess what’s best for an organization before building the real thing. To check out the four room options Cameron’s research study has put together, visit