Changes in health care influence furniture design


One of the new trends in health care furniture features easy access to technology sources. Courtesy Custer

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) One of the biggest changes you might have noticed recently when visiting your doctor’s office is that the furniture looks much more like what you’d find in a hotel room than in a hospital.

Health care furniture is adapting to fit the shifting health care environment, which today is driven by technology and a desire for a more hospitality-focused experience.

“We have good and bad experiences every day, and a lot of times in a health care setting they can be bad experiences for anyone from the patient to families and friends,” said Lindsey Sage, director of HealthWorks & Strategic Accounts at Custer.

She said furniture manufacturers are trying to understand those experiences and focus on how to provide greater support to the patients and families going through them.

“Utilizing our partnerships with architects and designers, and really trying to tie together what the intention is behind the space is really important,” Sage said.

“That has completely changed the type of furniture we are providing and even the pieces of fabric we use,” added Jennifer Werner, health care specialist at Custer.

For instance, in lobbies there is a greater emphasis on comfort and technology integration.

“For families and friends, there is a lot of sitting around and waiting, and we are trying to make that experience better and more of a relaxed setting,” Sage said.

She noted being able to use a tablet or cell phone or another piece of technology is important to people who are waiting.

“By providing connection points in furniture or the accessibility of technology in a lot of different places, it’s easier for family and friends to feel more comfortable in that setting,” she said. “So it’s incorporated into the furniture, into the floors. We are trying to make it as accessible as possible.”

In hospitals, patient rooms are becoming more adaptable to individual patients so the patient and family can feel more at home than in the more sterile settings that existed previously. Semi-private rooms are disappearing as demand for private rooms has increased and become the norm.

“Some of the mother-baby units we did at Spectrum actually added places where the family could plug in their iPod and it actually would show up on the TV in the room so you could look at your own pictures, scroll through your own music. It’s much more personalized now than it’s ever been,” Sage said.

The rooms are more likely to have comfortable chairs and couches for long waits or even overnight stays.

“That didn’t happen before,” Werner said.

In fact, Werner said the health care furniture industry provided very little for patient rooms or exam rooms in the past.

“We used to be just on carpeted spaces, office-type spaces,” she said. “Everyone needs a task chair or the nurses’ station needs stools or something, but we didn’t do a lot of patient room type spaces.”

Today, patient rooms, exam rooms and consultation rooms are seeing a growing demand for furniture because doctors are changing where and how they deliver information to their patients.

“You can imagine a half-moon-shaped table with a screen on the wall, and then you sit around the table together instead of across from one another, and you go over whatever the diagnosis is,” Sage said.

Exam rooms and consultation rooms also provide a more welcoming environment for someone who might be accompanying a family member on their visit.

Teleconferencing, known in medicine as telemedicine, is also a growing trend in the health care industry as hospital systems increase in size through mergers and acquisitions and need to connect patients with experts who might not be in the same city or even state.

Sage said she is seeing more situations where a room is set up specifically for teleconferencing.

“There might be a screen and a partnership with a doctor in maybe Cincinnati who specializes in something specific,” she said. “We work in these environments too, whether it’s providing furniture or technology in the room or a mobile cart type of situation.”

She noted Mary Free Bed is doing more frequent teleconferencing in its facility.

In addition to providing medical care, many hospitals are teaching centers and need spaces for training. Those medical education environments have also changed dramatically from the past with much different furniture and technology needs than before.

Sage said the use of live simulation labs is one such environment that has arisen.

“We are seeing more and more that hospitals and medical facilities are having these live simulation labs for teaching moments with students,” she said.

She noted Spectrum Health and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine are good examples. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital has a three-zone live simulation lab that both organizations utilize for learning.

“They bring in mannequins for students to practice on,” Sage said.

The realistic mannequins are hooked up to machines just like they would be in the hospital. The teachers are able to control the mannequins from the control zone, causing them to have a seizure or bleed, and students who are in the operating zone have to react just like they would in a real setting.

“The teachers in the control room can be watching what is going on and they can flag a mistake, and that flag will show up when they are re-watching it with everyone,” Werner said.

“When it’s all done, they go into the third zone, which is the learning zone. In that room they have an interactive TV that plays back the entire thing. It has multiple angles — multiple cameras capture it. Watching it is like watching ‘ER’ or ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’”

Werner said this is an example of just how drastically things have changed in health care environments and how furniture manufacturers now have to think when designing chairs or medical carts, or any other piece of furniture for the health care setting.

In looking forward, Sage said technology will continue to drive changes in health care. Telemedicine is likely to grow, including options for a patient to receive care from a doctor from his or her home. There might even be tests a patient can do from home and submit via computer or mobile phone to the doctor’s office for analysis.

Sage and Werner said many of those changes are still far down the road, and no matter what happens with medical care, they aren’t worried the need for health care furniture will decline.

“We’ll still have medical facilities and we’ll still sell furniture, but what we are seeing with technology is very different and pushing us into this new way of thinking about design within these settings,” Sage said.

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