One of my favorite parts of working in healthcare design is speaking to patients and family advisory teams about how a new project can improve their experience within a healthcare system.

They let us into their lives by sharing their joys and struggles, what’s important to them, what has made a difference, and what they hope they never have to do again. Every time I leave, I think, “We must get this right, we have to make it better.”

Many of their requests seem so simple yet almost every organization I’ve worked with hears much of the same feedback. The design industry attempts to find solutions that address these concerns by providing more intuitive wayfinding, more space for families in the care areas, more access to daylight and views, standardized rooms and processes, supplies at point of care, and so on. With each project we learn something new and make progress.

Yet, there’s still so much more we can do, which is why whenever I hear about the tech industry making strides forward into healthcare, I get so excited about how much closer we’re getting to personalized medicine and truly transforming our healthcare experiences. From the research side, I can’t wait to see how the care model changes. But specifically, within the built environment, there’s so much opportunity for developing a personalized experience to allow patients and families some control over the process and give staff and caregivers time back in their day to spend with them.

Let’s start with a person’s arrival on campus. If a driver can pick me up from virtually any location, it’s not a leap to think that a concierge could be alerted when I’ve arrived on campus, greet me by name as I enter the front door and walk me to my appointment. This experience could remove the anxiety of not knowing how to navigate a large complex campus and reduce late appointments due to patients getting lost as well as make patients feel cared for before they’ve even seen their provider.

Having the patient arrive on time and less stressed could also mean more meaningful time with the provider. The staff would also be able to run the clinic on time and not feel like they had to rush from one patient to the next.

Taking technology and personalization a step further, if I can change the temperature of my house from my phone and my car knows the position of the seat I like compared to my spouse’s preferences, why couldn’t I connect to a system in the hospital that dimmed the lights in the exam room to my liking, played my favorite music, and set my preferred temperature so I wouldn’t have to ask for a heated blanket as soon as I entered the room?

Could sensors be installed on the windows and HVAC system to allow for operable windows in patient care areas, while still meeting infection control concerns? Imagine the impact a soft breeze and the sound of a bird singing would have on a patient and their care team.

On the flip side, what if we could stop the sounds of beeping monitors and overhead pages? These sounds in the hospital are harsh, unnatural, and instill such trauma for families and patients. There should be a way to silence those alerts and still allow the staff to know where they need to be when the IV bag is running low or code is being called. For instance, can we push those alerts straight to a person’s ear bud, phone, or tablet or to a staff member in charge of monitoring all of it from a control point inside the unit?

Finally, could the same tracking technology that allows my phone to know where I am and how long it will take me to get home from work be used in a hospital to help families understand when to expect clinicians rounding or, better yet, alert them via text messaging that the rounding team is on the floor? This would allow families to feel like they could go get a coffee or breakfast in the morning and not worry that they’ll miss their opportunity to ask questions and hear how their loved one is progressing.

I think it’s important that as design professionals we help guide the tech industry to what is truly going to impact the patient, family, and staff experience. Technology can be more than a positive distraction, digital wayfinding, or a virtual world in which people can escape.

I’d love to see designers focus on creating technology solutions that allow for more personal interactions and connections back to the natural world. It’s exciting to think about the role technology could someday play in improving how we create environments that are better for those who need care, provide care, and support it.

Kari Thorsen NCIDQ, LEED AP, Green Belt Lean Certification for Facilities Design, is a principal at ZGF Architects LLP (Seattle). She can be reached at