In 2007, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement launched the Triple Aim initiative to tie specific actions for change to improved outcomes in healthcare environments. The result was a set of design concepts that supported a team-based approach to care and focused on improving the patient experience, improving the health of populations, and reducing the per capita cost of healthcare. A decade later, the Quadruple Aim was introduced, factoring the caregiver into the equation. It sought to restore a sense of joy and purpose to the work of being a caregiver, especially in an environment that’s traumatic at times.

Now there’s a new approach on the horizon that works to improve experience on a much larger scale: humanity-centered design. Over the last year, this concept has surfaced in the technology world as a way to counteract the deep focus on the individual that social media promotes, which can lead to feelings of isolation and inadequacy. Now, humanity-centered design is finding its way into the healthcare design lexicon as a way to encourage specific behaviors and outcomes, focusing on the needs of multiples rather than individuals and advancing human well-being. Think of it as simply being kind to people.

It’s time for healthcare professionals to consider how the built environment can preserve humanity in interactions between humans and the environment or humans and technology—especially in the more critical care areas where the level of technology is growing exponentially. An overly technical environment designed toward an individual experience is in jeopardy of creating a system of singular parts that may be counterproductive to the goals and best interests of the whole.

In a healthcare environment, where one can feel alone, overwhelmed, and scared, it’s important to provide cues to patients, the staff, or family members that they’re valued or give them spaces where they can interact with others in a meaningful way. For example, an interior or exterior garden is a welcome balance to a highly clinical intensive care unit. Directional kiosks may be fine in a hotel or airport, but in a healthcare setting, where stress levels are already elevated, one-on-one interactions will do far more for the patient than just getting them to where they need to be.
Is it time to introduce a Quintuple Aim, through which we address patient experience, population health, reducing capital cost, restoring caregivers’ sense of purpose, and advancing the needs of humanity?

As design professionals and healthcare executives, we carry a great responsibility in our society as the keepers of our healthcare institutions. Like many other public buildings and gathering places, including schools, libraries, community spaces, public housing, etc., our healthcare institutions are a societal measure and reflection of how we care for our people.

What message do we want these spaces to project to the world? What behaviors do we want them to encourage? As we continue to expand the definition of healthcare beyond the traditional acute and ambulatory care environment, and as we’re faced with the growing need to support positive behaviors related to health, these questions become all the more important to ask.

It’s always been essential in healthcare design to balance both mission and margin, and humanity-centered design gives us the opportunity to continue to look at that balance through an ever-expanding lens. 

Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at