In this series, Healthcare Design magazine asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what’s got their attention and share some ideas on the subject.

Mark VanderKlipp is president, principal in charge, at Corbin Design (Traverse City, Mich.). Here, he shares his thoughts on wayfinding, coordinating the logistics of health system mergers, and designing for the big picture.

1. Good design is all about hospitality
There are parts of a medical visit that patients know will be unpleasant. It’s incumbent on us to design experiences that make those visits as unexpectedly pleasant as possible. Design is about understanding the state of mind of a typical healthcare visitor as they access services and removing barriers to comprehension—even when those barriers are created by established organizational silos. An enlightened focus on the needs of your patients, and your shared internal response to them, is fundamental to patient experience planning.

2. Build a communications master plan
With the changes related to the Affordable Care Act coming, we’re seeing a few clients holding off on physical campus improvements. Use the time to focus on less costly (but no less important) efforts to enhance the patient experience by making sure that the communications environment, along with the built environment, is attuned to the needs of guests. Remember, for the patient, it’s the not knowing that causes stress. Take steps to understand how your guests prefer to be contacted, then over-communicate if necessary, using coordinated call centers, pre-appointment letters, email communications, and mobile tools. Confident visitors feel more capable and in charge of their own care and this perception will make a difference as they enter the built environment.

3. Using wayfinding to affect the patient experience
We find with many clients that while the patient experience is everyone’s responsibility, it’s nobody’s specific job. Staff and volunteers don’t have a top-of-mind awareness of how to affect that experience in a positive way. A wayfinding system is designed to simplify information, and needs to be supported as part of an organization’s culture. Far from being just a signage program, it’s critical to communicate the logic, language, and tools for wayfinding to internal staff via training and orientation, employee communications, and your Intranet. Armed with this knowledge, a staff member who approaches a person can say with confidence “Let me help you find your way,” and teach them how to navigate on their own as well.

4. Consolidation = Catalyst
Health systems are merging to prepare for the future and coordinating the logistics of these changes involves multiple brand-transition consultants, from wayfinding and uniforms to name tags and business cards. Employ the collective expertise of these consultant teams to standardize design and procurement throughout the new health system, saving time and money as planning efforts move forward. Health system leaders should also use this momentum to demonstrate the promise of the newly consolidated brand to employees. If the staff doesn’t understand the new brand promise, your potential patients won’t either.

5. Keeping out of the weeds
In a recent project kickoff meeting, our client representative asked us to “help them keep out of the weeds.” In any design project, it can be easier to focus on the controllable details of the design outcomes, rather than on the larger strategy. At the outset, and all along the way, it’s important to place design tactics in the context of the broader goals. Yes, complex healthcare projects have many moving parts and we as designers get paid to manage them. But in any given project scope, there are factors on the periphery that may carry just as much weight as design decisions (described above). Our role as consultant demands we identify and design for these as well.

Mark VanderKlipp

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