Design is never an island unto itself. The layout, colors, furniture and other design features used in a health care facility can have a profound impact on healing, staff communication and patient satisfaction. Shannon Kraus, FAIA, FACHA, LEED AP and Kate Renner, AIA, EDAC, Lean Six Sigma CE, LEED AP BD+C, both of HKS Inc. say it can also help progress population health.

Where a facility is located and how it’s designed, both within the four walls and outside of them, can promote a sense of well-being and influence the behavior of patients and visitors to choose more healthful options, such as taking the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. Kraus and Renner say there are four factors that influence activity in the built environment: functionality, safety, aesthetics and destination. Read their article to learn more.

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Kaiser's community health hubs offer an alternative to the traditional clinic.

Photo courtesy of Kaiser Permanente

While there are numerous design subtleties that can influence healthful behaviors, there are also more overt ways to promote a healthier population within a given environment. Kaiser Permanente, for instance, has opened clinics in Southern California that it calls community health hubs. In New York, the public NYC Health + Hospitals is partnering with a nonprofit to build affordable housing for low-income residents, including those living with mental illness.

Other organizations have addressed specific needs. ProMedica, Toledo, Ohio, opened a full-service grocery store in an area once designated as a food desert. In Dallas, Baylor Scott & White Health turned an underused recreation center into the Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute. The facility not only offers patient care, but also diabetes education and a demonstration kitchen to teach patients about better food options.

Kraus and Renner suggest that health care organizations conduct a health design assessment to help them gain insight into their communities’ needs and whether facility design and space planning can help to fulfill those needs. It’s a viable first step in moving the population health needle.

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