July 15, 2019|News

Healthcare Interior Designer Q&A | Jennifer Fink

Interior Designer Jennifer Fink BDA ArchitectsThis post is in a series where we talk to healthcare interior designers about their work and industry.
Jennifer Fink is Senior Healthcare Designer/Planner at BDA Architects and is certified by the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers (AAHID).

What is one book, person, or talk that has been most influential in your career?

It’s hard to pick one person. I have had many people who have influenced me, from former supervisors who encouraged and supported me in my career journey, to formal mentors who helped guide me when I was struggling, to my MBA professor who taught a class about leadership and mindfulness that helped me see things clearly when I was confused. It is difficult to isolate just one.

In the end it comes down to relationships. We all have a few special people that we have met on our journey.

What products have you been excited about recently?

I am excited to see emerging technology integration into the healthcare environment and how it will change the design process. Companies like Nuance have launched products in the last few months that support ambient clinical intelligence via integration into the architecture which free clinicians from the dreaded computer and allow the information to be freely shared between provider and patient as the conversation unfolds in the exam room (or any other environment). These kinds of products place more emphasis on the interaction between the provider and clinician and can help to promote a clearer understanding of a diagnosis. I predict we will see more of these types of solutions implemented in the next few years as health systems get more comfortable with cloud-based technologies.

Technology in general is changing the face of the healthcare interior design industry as designers have to take into account its ever-changing nature. We have to consider how technology interacts with space and how that impacts the experiences of the staff, patients, and families. Even in just the few years that it takes to build a new facility, technology could be incredibly different than it was at the beginning of the design process. Designers need to build in the flexibility to adapt.

Do you have any go-to design solutions or techniques for creating healing environments?

So this is a challenging one to answer. “Healing environment” means many different things to different people.

For the organization or clinician the environment should support effective patient care, be safe, be efficient, be easily cleanable, and be organized to minimize steps in searching for colleagues or equipment & supplies. The environment should also support staff needs and provide a respite space which is sized appropriately and has access to natural light.

From a design perspective, attention to staff spaces is often put third, behind the patient and family perspectives; however, this is incorrect thinking. If you design the spaces to be functional and supportive for the staff, the staff will be less-stressed during their shift (which is sometimes 12 hours long). They, in turn, will take better care of the patient who will benefit from a better experience.

From the patients' perspective you want an environment that is private, comfortable, quiet and allows for positive provider interaction and visits from family and friends. This translates into spaces that have enough room to support the activities being accommodated, finishes that are pleasant and controls that support lighting and temperature control for comfort. For the family or care-giver the environment should support their presence and accommodate comfortable seating, the ability to sleep (if applicable), and access to food and internet so they can go about their daily lives while present in the healthcare environment.

Some people think that hospitals should look like hotels, but I disagree. Hospitals should look like hospitals. You are not coming here to go on vacation, you are coming here to get better. The level of finishes and amenities that hotels offer are not as valuable to the overall goal of getting the patient healthy and home as quickly as possible. Clinical quality should be the number one driver when selecting a hospital, not the overall aesthetic. Patients frequently rate their experiences based upon the quality of care they receive, their interactions with the provider, cleanliness of the facility and distractions they experience like frequent interruptions and noise. Aesthetics are important, but they are not the driving factor.

That being said, as designers our job is to create welcoming and functional facilities that support the care of the patient. We should create buildings that are visually appealing and easy to navigate. Patients should have control over the lighting and temperature within their rooms. Windows should be sized as large as codes allow (especially in staff areas) to bring in natural light. I have found that warm finishes combined with artwork and furniture that is of a substantial nature help to foster a sense of calm and comfort in patients. Courtyards and healing gardens, when these can be added, are great ways to introduce nature into the facility. These benefit patients, visitors and staff!

If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

I have two. Always say “yes” to an opportunity, even if you are scared that you can’t do it. Sometimes failure is ok, that is what teaches us to be better. If you are burned out or unhappy in a position, no matter how “good” you have it, don’t hesitate to change. Change is good!

What is one product that doesn't exist but should?

This will sound very futuristic, but a comprehensive in-room diagnostics device. A unit that you could place in the ceiling or one that would come out from the headwall and scan the entire patient. A device like this would speed up the diagnostic process, help with LOS and allow the patient to not be moved all over the hospital for various diagnostic tests during their stay. This would be especially helpful in critical care patients that you don’t want to move more than necessary. It would also save labor with transport staff and increase the effectiveness of nurses and physicians as they would get the results almost instantly. We may be years too early, but this would be a great tool if it ever comes.

We've also talked to Michelle Clark (Rees Associates), Lindsay Hampton (Pulse Design Group), Melinda Avila-Torio (THW Design), Lilliana Alvarado (UPHEALING)Ashleigh Pfluger (TJNG Partners)Jane Rohde (JSR Associates)John DuBard (Boulder Associates)Lisa Cini (Mosaic Design Studio), Susan Clark (Clark Patterson Lee)Crystal Hill (Odell Associates)Dr. Debra Harris (RAD Consultants)Libby Laguta (L2D.design), and Kristin Ellingsen (KE Design & Office Furniture Group).