Ever-changing demands on healthcare environments, driven by evolving care delivery models, customer expectations, and technology, are pushing the design community to seek fresh ideas on how to deliver adaptable environments that can enhance and improve the patient and staff experience.

Two of the keynote speakers at the Healthcare Design Expo & Conference will deliver just that. The opening and closing presentations will explore why it’s so important to re-evaluate what we think we already know about aesthetics and patient engagement, specifically, and how that process can lead to better outcomes and improved health and wellness.

Below is our Q+A with Susan Frampton, president of Planetree International, who will deliver the closing keynote presentation at 3:30 on Tuesday, Nov. 13. (Read more on presenter Ingrid Fetell Lee’s opening keynote presentation.)

Healthcare Design: How has patient and family engagement in healthcare changed over the last five years?

Susan Frampton: It’s become an integral aspect of more healthcare quality-improvement initiatives at all levels, from point-of-care efforts to improve the human connection between healthcare providers and their patients and families to the structures and practices aimed at matching care and treatment plans to the goals of the individual patient. There’s also been significant changes to the realms of policy and the research that informs this engagement at a systems design level.

What forces do you attribute to driving this change?

Consumerism, enabled by advances in personalized technologies—particularly digital applications and artificial intelligence (AI)—and ever-increasing patient expectations for ease of access, convenience, and better customer experience. These forces have led to increased competition from new entrants into the healthcare marketplace, like Walmart, CVS, Amazon, and others. In addition, we’ve captured and disseminated the growing evidence base connecting patient engagement to improved clinical outcomes.

Where is the healthcare industry largely getting experience right?

Advances in the use of telehealth are happening fast, improving convenience and access for people living in underserved and out-of-the-way areas as well as in metropolitan areas and suburbs around the world. While there’s still a great deal of variability in the quality and user interface of these platforms, it’s moving us toward a better overall customer experience. I think we’ve done a good job of improving design elements in hospitals and clinics as a strategy to improve the care experience, but most people would prefer not to have to go to these places at all if they could get similar services in the comfort and convenience of their own homes. Telehealth, wearables, AI, and other innovations will continue to transform how, where, and when we interface with patients, and a great patient experience is already being redefined.

Where is there more work to be done?

I think we need to be sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of patients who may not have access to the technologies that will revolutionize healthcare management, potentially creating an even larger divide between the haves and have-nots. This may be generational as well as tied to disparities in social, educational, and economic factors. I also think that some advances in patient engagement could border on patient manipulation, as big data and sophisticated analytics figure out not only how to personalize disease management approaches for greater effectiveness but also to potentially predict and influence purchasing behavior.

How can healthcare organizations succeed in making patient experience a priority?

It comes down to listening, and then taking action. First you need to ensure that your organization has many avenues to identify what’s important to patients, families, community members, and staff about the way care is delivered. Then you need to ensure that the information you collect is used in an effective and timely manner to continuously improve.

Why is this goal so hard to achieve?

Because people are complex and unique, and their individual goals and preferences are unique and often don’t match up perfectly with the clinical team’s goals. Our traditional paternalistic approach to dealing with patients has been to value a medically defined “good clinical outcome” as the ultimate goal of care. And while that may be the right curative approach (and it may be the goal of some patients sometimes), it’s not always what a person wants. We need to know who this person is that we’re working with. And we need to help them to identify what’s most important to them, laying out all their options, even the ones we may not personally support. Our system isn’t currently designed to do this consistently, but we’re working on advances in shared decision-making and coaching. Progress is being made.

What is Planetree’s role in this process as experience continues to evolve?

Planetree’s role has evolved to become the standard-setter for defining and measuring excellence in person-centered care through our certification program. Healthcare provider organizations in 25 countries currently use our evidence-based certification framework and criteria to guide their patient-centered improvement efforts, and we’re working hard to spread this even further. One of the foundations of that work continues to be our commitment to humanizing the healthcare experience by focusing on the human relationships at the center of care and the need to foster compassionate, empathic communications between all members of the care team, which includes the patient and their loved ones.

What legislative/legal happenings are on your radar right now that design professionals should be aware of?

The AARP-sponsored Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) act and the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) act, both of which focus on supporting the role of family caregivers. I say this mainly because it’s a harbinger of things to come, when more care will be delivered in people’s homes. What can the design community bring to this new reality? The approvals of recent mergers and proposed mergers between companies like CVS and Aetna, United Health and Walmart, Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway, etc., are also worthy of attention. These will quickly become the new doctors’ offices and primary care centers, and they desperately need help from the design community.

What do you hope this audience will take away from your presentation?

Unprecedented and unimaginable innovations in healthcare delivery are going to happen over the next decade. Healthcare designers will need to think outside the box. And because more care is going to be delivered outside the box, they’ll need to design outside the box, as well.

For more information on the keynote and educational sessions at this year’s HCD Expo, visit HCDexpo.com.