Homey health-care furnishings are just what the doctor ordered


The Regard suite of products from Steelcase is designed to provide a comfortable atmosphere in which patients and health care providers can meet. Courtesy Steelcase

Chances are you’ve already seen improvements in the waiting area of your doctor’s office. That trend is set to continue as furniture manufacturers seek to bring more residential elements into the waiting areas of health care-related facilities.

“Studies have shown if your waiting room experience is more positive, you carry that feeling into the exam and into your overall health care assessment,” said Katie Ostreko, new product development manager of the Steelcase Health brand at Steelcase Inc.

Ostreko said with medicine becoming more patient-centered and outcome oriented, health care leaders want to ensure patients receive the best possible experience from the moment they walk in the door.

Furniture manufacturers have found a productive wait is one way to improve a patient’s satisfaction.

Sara Armbruster, vice president of strategy, research and new business innovation at Steelcase Health, said in designing its waiting room products Steelcase works hard to consider the needs of not just patients, but whoever may accompany them, such as children or a family caregiver.

“There are a lot of ways people might use that time,” she said. “We developed our Regard suite for different waits and different individual needs.”

One variation of the Regard line is set up like a booth at a restaurant, with a video screen at one end that offers internet access and a bit of privacy while waiting.

Another is set up more like a living room, with couches around a video screen and a coffee table in the middle.

For patients with a chronic condition such as diabetes, a medical visit often involves consulting with a dietician or a health coach.

Michelle Ossmann, director of health care environments for Steelcase Health, said Regard provides a comfortable atmosphere for a member of the medical team to sit down and consult with the patient after the meeting with the doctor. This can include helping the patient access websites or directing them to helpful videos about their condition.

“Say you are diagnosed with something, and now you have to have a different meal plan, and you want to share that with the family members in the waiting space. This would let you do that,” Ostreko said.

Peggy Sonnenburg, director of marketing and product management at Nemschoff, a Herman Miller Inc. brand, said Nemschoff’s recent health care products also focus on establishing a positive first impression and supporting changing health care models.

“When you enter a facility, what you see is your first impression of what type of care you are going to get in the care journey,” Sonnenburg said.

She said health care waiting rooms have always resembled airport waiting areas, with identical rows of side-by-side seating.

Nemschoff’s goal has been to instead create a variety of comfortable seating options that support patients’ varying needs as they wait.

To create that first impression, Sonnenburg said designers reached into the past.

“The company has been around since the 1950s, and it started in residential furniture,” she said. “There were some really great designs to start with, and we looked at them from an institutional use perspective and tweaked them and redesigned them for strength, durability and clean-ability.”

The result is a feeling of stepping into your grandma’s living room.

Sonnenburg said the key was to create a variety of inviting spaces that give patients a choice in where they’d like to sit.

Nemschoff also took on modernizing a 1950s classic and a staple in hospital settings: the recliner.

Designers David Ritch and Mark Saffell, from 5d Studio in Los Angeles, said they were able to get rid of a lot of the extra bulk without losing any of the actual sitting space.

“A typical recliner has boxy, large arms, and it takes a large footprint on the floor,” Ritch said. “We stripped it down and moved the casters in. It was important to keep the interior width the same.”

The team also made it easy to transfer a patient in and out of the chair by creating a moveable arm.

Ritch said the goal was to make the chair look like a piece of furniture rather than a machine.

Sonnenburg said all of Nemschoff’s health care products focus on a human element and creating a familiar residential feel to increase patient satisfaction.

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