If you walk the streets of Paris, you’ll quickly notice the prevalence of street cafés and the bustling activity that surrounds them at all hours.  Far more than just a place to get a bite to eat or a cup of coffee, they’re a neighborhood destination in and of themselves. They serve as a kind of extended “living room” for their entire community, and as a place residents seek out to pass the time.

What, then, does this have to do with right-sizing the rural hospital?  These cafés have a lot to teach us about how to approach the design of “waiting rooms.”

Rather than designing spaces that simply provide an area, however nice-looking, for people to wait, we should be considering the types of spaces that visitors would actually want to spend time in. 

The typical rural hospital already offers all of these types of places, but frequently separates them into distinct spaces. Careful design allows for both efficiency in square footage and the creation of better spaces for visitors when considering how to locate public amenities.

For example, sharing waiting rooms between multiple departments allows for the provision of more visitor amenities and more gracious public areas. Dining services can be arranged so that café tables also serve as a convenient place for visitors to use their laptops while waiting.

Patient-focused approaches such as providing restaurant-style pagers to surgical patients’ families can help free visitors to take advantage of amenities. Thinking of corridors and waiting rooms as “streetscapes and cafés” can provide a powerful starting point to developing spaces that better serve the hospital community.

When developing these spaces within the hospital, it’s also important to pay close attention to the diversity of spaces sought by different visitors.  Some will seek out activity and energy, while others desire quiet, contemplative spaces.

By developing a streetscape of different types of spaces, conveniently available to multiple departments, it’s much easier to meet diverse needs.  Access to the exterior and healing gardens, creation of a chapel and contemplative spaces, and providing a variety of styles of seating can all contribute to a dramatic improvement over the traditional waiting room.

Using smart design to allow these amenities to be conveniently shared and accessible to multiple departments is an important part of right-sizing the rural hospital.