"A friendlier look, a warmer feel..."
Even before a doctor or a nurse starts to help you at Intermountain Medical Center, the buildings and the campus are designed to help you start healing.
A hospital is more than bricks and concrete, more than the paint on the walls. Yet those very things - a building's shape, its color, even the flowers growing along the wall outside - can affect a patient's healing experience.
It can be what healthcare culture expert Robin Orr called a "healing environment in healthcare."
- A place where patients and families are not only welcome, but encouraged to participate in and make decisions about their care,
- A place where the human spirit and qualities of healing are an integral part of the social and physical environment,
- A place where healing is as important as curing.
At Intermountain Medical Center, teams of architects, designers, landscapers, builders, and healthcare providers have worked to create just that.
"Healthcare is really about those two things: promoting health and providing care," says David Grauer, Intermountain Medical Center's administrator. "Intermountain Medical Center was designed to facilitate both, from the stone of our floors and the flowers outside to the state-of-the-art technology our clinicians are using to treat patients. All of it matters."
The hospital centers on the patient - starting with helping you get where you're going.
From the layout of the buildings to the paint on the walls, the focus of Intermountain Medical Center centers around the patient, according to Steve Dibble, Intermountain Healthcare's director of facility development and construction.
"First and foremost, it's easy to get into and out of, to know where you're going, and to get where you're going quickly and easily," Steve says. "We felt that was the first thing we could do to improve the patients' experience."
Each building has a distinct entrance, which allows patients more direct access to the clinicians and facilities that treat their conditions. "We created all these separate front doors so patients can pull up in their cars and be relatively close to where they're going, instead of fighting their way through a big building," Steve says.
Nature, gardens, light, colors, textures, and views of the mountains add peace to the hospital environment. Beyond that, throughout the 100-acre campus, visitors will find all kinds of subtle healing touches.
- Linking the buildings are walking paths, gardens, water features and other landscaping that offers respite and shelter.
- There are four gardens, Steve says, where patients and their loved ones can experience the peacefulness of a few moments out of doors.
- There are two major water features - one near the entrance to the main patient tower, the other in the healing garden at the Huntsman-Intermountain Cancer Center - that provide opportunities for rest and reflection.
- And, there's a 1.5 mile walking path along Little Cottonwood Creek, which runs through the campus.
Inside the campus
- There are specially-chosen windows that welcome and spread natural light, sharing views of Mt. Olympus and casting warmth on walls and floors that are finished with natural stone tile, native to Utah.
- Each patient room has a 6 foot by 6.5 foot picture window, and each has a view - 60 percent of Intermountain Medical Center's patient rooms have a view of the Wasatch mountains and 40 percent look west toward the Oquirrh mountains.
- Each room is private and contains a sofa bed, so loved ones can spend time together.
- The rooms are decorated in warm tones, with wood clothing wardrobes and comfortable décor.
While the exterior is clean and precise, designed to convey Intermountain Medical Center's position on the scientific and technological cutting edge, the interior "projects a softer look, a friendlier look, a warmer feel," Steve says. "There was a period when everything was ‘hospital green.' We wanted something different. Something peaceful."
Each building has its own color and texture palette, he says, and its own unique amenities.
- At the Carolyn Barnes Gardner Women and Newborn Center, for example, the décor centers around lush greens and light maple wood.
- The Huntsman-Intermountain Cancer Center opens from its entryway to towering cathedral ceilings and streaming daylight.
- At the in the J.L. Sorenson Heart and Lung Center, a meditation room is decorated, accessorized and lit to enhance calm and introspection.
Little things add up to big differences
But the difference between Intermountain Medical Center and other hospitals isn't one big thing. Rather, Steve says, "It's in all the little things." However, experts are coming to a consensus that the little things make a difference.
"For more than a decade, the healthcare industry has been borrowing design concepts as well as ideas regarding amenities from the hospitality market," Craig Beale, principal and director of the healthcare division of HKS Architects, told Intermountain Contractor magazine. HKS has been the nation's leader in healthcare architecture according to Modern Healthcare magazine for the past 15 years.
"The idea behind it is simple - hospitality equates to relaxation, comfort and convenience," Craig says. "Today's sophisticated healthcare subscriber demands all of these elements. The more amenities provided by a healthcare system, the better it can attract savvy healthcare consumers."
Studies show: A hospital's design affects medical outcomes
But it's more than that. In a recent review of thousands of scientific and scholarly articles, the Center for Health Design found more than 600 studies that link hospital design to clinical outcomes - from staff effectiveness to patient safety to overall quality and cost.
In its report, "The Role of the Physical Environment in the Hospital of the 21st Century: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity," the center found that certain things do matter:
- It matters how much natural light a patient has access to during the course of her stay.
- It matters whether her sleep is interrupted by pagers going off or by loud intercom announcements.
- It matters if her nurses and doctors are fatigued from maneuvering a meandering, inefficient floor plan.
"Growing scientific literature is confirming that the conventional ways hospitals are designed contributes to stress and danger - or more positively, that this level of risk and stress is unnecessary," the report says. "Improved physical settings can be an important tool in making hospitals safer, more healing, and better places to work."
Among the report's recommendations
- More single-bed rooms
- Reduce noise levels (via sound-absorbing ceilings, for example)
- Improve ventilation
- Provide access to natural and full-spectrum lighting
- Provide patients with views of nature or other positive distractions
- Provide clear "wayfinding" systems, so people can find their way around
- Design the units and nurses' stations to reduce staff walking and fatigue
Implementing these recommendations will reduce the spread of disease, promote healing, and provide support to clinicians and staff, the report says.
Intermountain Medical Center has taken those principles to heart, says David Grauer, its administrator. "It's great to be one of the nation's leading medical and research facilities," he says. "That's important to us. But fundamentally what we're about is being a place where people come to heal."