Centres of Influence designed to achieve higher aspirations

Every hospital communicates a series of visual messages directly to its consumers, staff and patients about what the organization is, and what it values.

These messages are sometimes intentional, but frequently they are unintentional, and often they are shockingly negative. Visual messages speak louder than words about the priorities, aspirations and values of any given health care organization.

When patients, staff and community members first encounter a hospital or medical centre, they begin to form an opinion that prepares them for their ongoing experiences within the facility. For example, do patients see evidence of empathy and “being in good hands,” or do they brace themselves for a dismal encounter?

In particular, does your facility inspire confidence? Does it revitalize the human spirit? Is there a sense of cultural connection and a meaningful, locally inspired identity? Can your hospital compete for the best qualified staff in the region—or worldwide? Does it see itself as a driver of economic prosperity in the community and beyond? Does it deserve enthusiastic support when it comes to fundraising? Is there a gap between your hospital’s Mission, Vision and Values statements…and reality? Moreover, does your hospital communicate the message that it is a “centre of influence” for one’s health? Or it is symbol of what can be wrong in our health system?

Answers to these questions form impressions that are reinforced or eroded over time through human interaction, which are interwoven with the quality of physical spaces.

Based on our projects for health organizations across Canada and around the world, the role and image of hospitals is moving away from passive “here when you need us” cost centres. Instead, what we’re seeing is the emergence of vibrant, connected, economic assets that function as centres of influence for enhanced health. These new hospitals are hubs of intensive knowledge development, designed to strongly influence attitudes and behavior that lead to lower “burden of disease” costs across the population.

These changes respond to the unsustainable cost of current approaches to treating chronic diseases, as well as a greater appreciation for healthy living, working, learning and healing spaces.

To achieve such a leap forward, there is ever-increasing recognition by leading hospitals that their facility design must clearly and consistently communicate their larger role in society as a creator of health and economic prosperity. In other words, it is not sufficient to simply rebrand medical facilities as health centres, nor is it adequate to build highly efficient utilitarian infrastructure.

These high performance facilities must also demonstrate results of a strategic process that begins by defining the right visual messages with respect to identity, values and aspirations. Next, these messages need to be embodied in the facility by means of emotionally responsive, meaningful design choices.

Throughout this process, it is important to realize that we need not choose between empathic design and adherence to budgets; our clients expect both/and, rather than either/or. In simple terms, beauty on a budget, high performance and an influential profile happen when money is invested wisely and strategically, while eliminating waste.

For example, decision makers at Colchester Regional Hospital in Truro, Nova Scotia recognized that their replacement facility would play a central role in the region’s economic growth, while serving as a strong symbol to inspire healthy communities. To lure the “best and brightest” staff that the hospital aims to attract by competing on a global basis, a generic design would not deliver what they required. One of the design aspirations can be summed up by imagining someone saying, “I moved to Truro because of their fabulous hospital.”

Colchester is strategically designed around three separate but interconnected components which wrap around gardens and courtyards: an ambulatory care building that was constructed at a lower unit cost than a conventional stacked configuration; a cost-effective, high performance, uniform-grid diagnostic and treatment block; and an efficiently stacked in-patient unit.

Another recent example of design that reflects higher aspirations can be found in South Africa, where our goal was to create a series of facilities that would change how people think about their health. Aiming to dramatically lower “burden of disease” costs, the South African Ministry of Health has commissioned us to create exemplar Health Promoting Lifestyle Centres (HPLCs) in each of the country’s nine provinces.

In contrast to long-established acute care “Centres of Excellence” for treating disease, we conceived the HPLC design as innovative “Centres of Influence” for promoting healthy living. The dominant image we placed at the heart of the HPLC, inspired by South Africa’s national flower, the Protea, represents change, hope, healing and renewal. The natural attracting power of the blossom is designed to draw local residents to this welcoming hub of health. Its strong form embodies the Ministry’s aspiration to set an international standard for health-centric design that explores and promotes a full spectrum of approaches to health promotion. One of our objectives was to demonstrate what can be done in a tangible way to cause a contagious “pandemic of health.”

The State of Qatar is emerging as a world leader on many fronts, ranging from international relations to education and sports.  Farrow Partnership Architects was selected to design a precedent-setting new Integrated Health Centre and Community Hospital in Doha, Qatar that embodies the country’s progressive health system expansion initiative. The project comprises a 220-bed, 645,000 sq ft hospital and ambulatory care facility. The design will express regional values and aspirations within the cultural identity of Qatar, while becoming a centre of influence regarding the community’s health. It will be consistent with leading Canadian health care design standards, while aiming to be a global exemplar for how design can be a catalyst for health.

These three examples demonstrate how hospitals can become centres of influence which actively enhance the health and prosperity of their populations. They are not isolated cases; rather, we have recently presented similar concepts to Ministers of Health in Trinidad and Kuala Lumpur, as well as South Africa. We have also been invited to introduce these ideas to health care leaders in such diverse locations as Finland, throughout the Middle East, in Texas and at the Mayo Clinic. Our projects for health care clients across Canada and around the world indicate there is growing interest for applying these approaches to enhance the local economy, while revitalizing the emotional state of patients, families, staff and the community.