Q&A: Healthcare Architect Talks Designing for Patient Experience

By Roxanne Squires

Senior Principal and Global Healthcare Leader, Phil LiBassi, FAIA, FACHA for global integrated design firm DLR Group, believes in providing comprehensive, innovative solutions that respond to the client’s ethos and needs. While leveraging his significant healthcare design experience, he is committed to offering partnership and consultation, including visioning, process mapping, programming, planning, design, budgeting and technical expertise.

In a recent two-part article he wrote for DLR Group’s website, LiBassi explained designing for the patient experience as well as designing for hospitals into the future. Healthcare Construction + Operations News spoke with him to continue the conversation.

 Q: How does the idea of patient-centered design differ from hospital design from just 10 years ago?

 LiBassi: The idea of patient-centered design has been the focus of our practice for the past 27 years. Over the last decade, however, the advent of the smartphone and an added focus on value-based design has meant greater use of technology within healthcare facilities. As with any change, there are plusses and minuses, but one of the greatest advantages of this development is that it enables us to envision ways we can leverage new technologies to support and improve patient-centered design.

Q: Why has this become such an important focus in just the past 10 years?

 LiBassi: On the plus side, technology allows for greater access to healthcare in the realm of information, self-monitoring and treatment (e.g., e-clinics). Healthcare providers have greater access to data and information, which increases the support for diagnoses and treatments. Patients have convenient access to care and medical information, allowing them greater control over lifestyle management and the ability to engage in “well management” as opposed to “sick care.” Access to information, both inside and outside the hospital, can support shorter lengths of stay and improved outcomes. Acute care patients and caregivers — who often experience challenging health decisions — are armed with the important information necessary to make these health decisions.

Q: Can you provide examples of how you, as a designer, use empathy to influence design? How exactly do you “put yourself in the patient’s shoes”?

 LiBassi: On a personal level, nothing tops immersion. Whether we’re shadowing physicians, surgeons or nurses as they work, or spending time with family members or loved ones as part of a caregiver team, we can only understand from the hands-on experience. In my case, my passion for healthcare design began over 30 years ago following my role as a caregiver for my nephew. The experience left me with a desire to improve what I viewed as obstacles to a positive patient experience through enhanced design. I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience that —  it changed my life and how I approach my practice of architecture.

Q: What are some of the key factors when considering “simplicity” in a patient-focused hospital design?

 LiBassi: Less is more: Eliminate clutter and organize the necessities. Create simple, intuitive paths of travel, and create an excellent workplace for the medical and support staff.

 Q: Can you speak to some of the unique challenges in healthcare design and expand upon how you work to overcome those challenges?

 LiBassi: Healthcare design is technically complex at every level — design, regulatory, physical. The challenge is to not lose sight of design while still focusing on solutions to technical challenges. The balance of the answer would require a book.

Q: As patient-centered design becomes more common, what other trends do you see on the horizon for healthcare design?

 LiBassi: I would like to think patient-centered design is common, and as I look at the landscape of healthcare design, I see a great many firms doing excellent work. The industry has come a long way. I’m always cautious to suggest trends, but I can foresee an increased focus of balancing value and design as the cost of healthcare continues to climb. Perhaps the most important trend should have nothing to do with the hospital, but more a focus on wellness as an attitude and a lifestyle.