As designers, we bring years of collective expertise to a project, advising clients on the right choices for their new or renovated healthcare facility. Research plays a big part in this collective expertise.

Over the years, HGA design researcher Kara Freihoefer, PhD, and I have directed both pre-occupancy and post-occupancy evaluations (POEs) to build a library of empirical data that serves as a benchmark to guide our design decisions for future projects. Our research primarily focuses on design choices and operational processes that impact the patient experience and staff efficiency.

As noted in my last blog, research investigations begin by identifying a design problem or inquiry. Once identified, a review of existing evidence will reveal evidence-based concepts or the need for a new investigation. When there is a lack of evidence, a methodology is defined using research tools to answer the design inquiry. Research tools will vary depending on specific research objectives. We have found the following general methods the most useful.

Secondary data. Secondary research includes identifying existing published research as well as reviewing a healthcare organization’s records regarding patient satisfaction scores, safety factors, and patient throughput to understand current-state. The data will help inform your research.

Photo journaling. Photo journaling combines photography and note-taking. Designers equip patients and staff with cameras and ask them to take photos of spaces, objects, or operational processes that enhance or detract from the patient experience. These photo journalists then provide notes describing the significance of each image.

Questionnaires. Questionnaires can collect staff and patient perceptions and experiences in a quick, cost-effective manner. We typically distribute questionnaires on-site or by email, standard mail, or Internet. Questionnaires are an effective method of gathering qualitative and quantitative information about elements of the built environment, delivery of patient care, workflow process, work performance, and job satisfaction.

Shadowing. This observational tool collects data in real-time situations with researchers observing caregivers or patients. Appropriate data collection includes workflow patterns, patient interaction, wayfinding challenges, travel distances, wasteful practices, and repetitive activities. The observations are captured and categorized.

A day in the life. This method combines shadowing and interviewing. A researcher shadows a patient and takes notes based on observations. Following the day-long experience, patients are interviewed to evaluate their healthcare experience.

Collecting data is still the beginning of the research process. In following blogs, I will discuss how to organize and process data as a basis to inform design outcomes.