A recent HEALTHCARE DESIGN survey showed that more than 51% of those polled believe new hospitals should incorporate design ideas from spas and hotels. I am reminded of an article I read some time ago by architect Adam Kerner, who pointed out that the words hospital and hospitality share the same Middle English root, hospitale.

I am fascinated by this semantic relationship and believe that there are many lessons to be learned from the hospitality industry, not just for pampering patients and families, but for delivering positive patient outcomes and competing for valuable staff.

The physical organization, attention to the quality of the public experience, and carefully orchestrated wayfinding could greatly reduce the confusion and stress that usually describe a trip to the hospital. So what does this actually mean for the site design?

It means that the same attention to detail will be important in the site, as well as the interior spaces. In resort development, a common axiom says that the first five minutes of a guest’s experience dictates how the rest of the stay will be perceived. The sequence of arrival, from accessing the site and parking the car, to how one is received, processed, and directed, are integral to that experience.

It means creating gardens in visible areas of a building or campus so patients can have contact with nature, proven in many studies to improve recovery time and reduce stress for patients and staff. It suggests that the addition of resort-type amenities such as water features, fireplaces, and outdoor furniture upholstered in rich fabric will be more common. We may see more hospitals with desirable sites that have views to a beautiful natural landscape.

Creating a resort setting for staff and families could include exploring previously undeveloped areas of the site such as a rooftop, where privacy and quiet may be more achievable than in standard waiting rooms or staff lounges.

I am interested to hear to what degree this design approach might be incorporated in new, or even existing, facilities.

Catherine Mahan, FASLA is President of Mahan Rykiel Associates Inc., a landscape architecture, urban design and planning firm specializing in healthcare design with offices in Baltimore, Maryland and Hong Kong. She has lectured nationally on the benefits of restorative/healing gardens in a healthcare environment.