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Featured Article:

Straighten up and fly right...What hospitals can learn from airports

Tama Duffy Day, FIIDA, FASID, Firmwide Health & Wellness Practice Area Leader, Gensler

I've been traveling a lot lately, every week it seems, which is unusual for me.  But through this I've had time (lots of it) on airplanes and in airports, and I've been pleasantly surprised to see how much airports have improved in spite of gasoline prices, competition and airline mergers.  And considering I'm typically engaged with a healthcare client designing a new facility at the end of each trip, I've been surprised to learn that hospitals could learn a few things from the airport.  Here are my top six observations.

1. Use Brands and Signage: Most people have to find the way to both hospitals and airports and in both situations, are usually stressed...with lots of internal conversations taking place. "Am I late?" “Will there be a long line?” “Was I supposed to be in the right lane or the left lane?” “Where do I park?” “It's a long walk, I'm confused." Airport signage tends to be very clear and consistent - on the way to the campus, at the campus and throughout the buildings. Also, directions to the airport are always explained clearly on the web site where I check in. Hospital systems are learning that the customer experience typically begins remotely, via their online presence, but the integration of the brand(s) on the website are dramatically different from the brand(s) I encounter once I physically arrive on the hospital’s campus. Aligning these brand experiences (real and virtual), as well as clear communications via signage, can have a tremendous impact on patient and visitor satisfaction and stress reduction.

2.  Embrace the Community: Although every airport has similar restraints and elements, including security measures, retail stores and passenger/ baggage concerns, some airports are doing a wonderful job of leveraging these issues and elements to create a sense of place. The Jackson Hole airport, for example, feels like Wyoming. It's memorable. I sincerely believe that hospitals should be the same. I think a hospital in Idaho should have a different look and feel from a hospital in Maryland. I encourage hospital systems to investigate the landscape, the sky, the arts, the community, the culture and the weather; and then use their findings to create a hospital that feels like the community in which it is located. We all desperately want a sense of community and would be so grateful to see and understand the mission of the hospital when I finally find my way to their front door. 

3. Create a Calming Place. We have the need to feel safe and secure in both an airport and a hospital, and sometimes, that sense of security comes from knowing what to expect before arriving. This allows people to show up prepared at the airport or hospital-yet another great way of lowering stress levels I personally like that airports have clear directions on where people need to line up because the security itself has been designed (along with its required signage) – throughout the airport. The security is integrated into the flow - and is not chaotic. It's comforting when this is integrated and it works, like with the lighting at the JetBlue terminal in New York. The new security requirements at both urban and suburban hospitals provide new opportunities to re-design that arrival / security process as well. It can be done in a way that welcomes every guest to the hospital, informs them, clarifies details, clearly communicates information and provides directions. We can learn from the airline customer service representatives who answer questions, direct people, move hostile customers to private areas and so much more. We can also learn from the airlines’ frequent flier lanes and technology tools that support the flight status, as well as security and gate arrival processes. 

4. Make All Guests and Customers Feel Welcome. Give us a five-star hospitality experience from arrival to departure. Have a concierge or greeter to ease our fears. Give us access to daylight and give us choices. Let us have places to work comfortably with real desks and accessible electrical outlets so we don't have to sit on the floor to charge our phones or laptops. Provide Wi-Fi so when unexpected things occur, we can get in touch with our families or companies. It’s important to remember that as paying healthcare customers, we have many choices on where to spend our money. It doesn’t hurt to pay attention to the details - all the way from the size and location of chairs to the design of the public restroom.

5.  Anticipate Our Needs. When travelers are pacing around wondering if the flight will depart before the next snow storm hits Chicago and they’ll make it to their presentation on time, or when guests are wandering the hospital halls anxious if a loved one’s surgery will be successful, provide some sort of positive distraction and appeal to our senses. Give us options for healthy food, and a place to sit so we don't have to balance the food on our laps. Break the monotony of wall clutter with beautiful art. Breathe some new life into that gift shop or bookstore with new unexpected regional retail options. I still walk the 15 extra minutes to a Vino Volo restaurant at any airport because their food and beverage options have been thoughtfully curated - both in an expected and unexpected sort of way. Design takeaway - the more successful the shop, the more options the owners will have to refine what they sell.

6. Focus on Well-Being. We know that staying hydrated is very important for travel well-being. The San Francisco International terminal got it right. At that airport, once you pass security, there is a well-designed water station that allows travelers to fill water bottles for free. A 21st century version of the watering hole. Airports are also providing yoga rooms, changing rooms, meditation spaces and gardens to bring well-being to the traveler, to bring back the joy of travel. And hospital systems are integrating well-being more intentionally into their facilities; through the use of single bedded patient rooms. This gives patients the opportunity to receive high quality healthcare (reduced infection, increased privacy, reduced patient falls) in rooms that also support the family and the giving of care. We are also seeing more private places for staff to decompress, if even for a moment, recognizing that a well-cared for staff member provides a better quality of healthcare.

The big takeaway for me is to look at airport travelers and healthcare patients as consumers, listen to their point of view. If hospitals take the time to observe, listen, shadow the consumer, and experience the event through the eyes of the customer, we'll all be better for it.

A Director and a Firmwide Health & Wellness Practice Area Leader at Gensler, Tama has over three decades of experience with a significant body of knowledge in health, ranging from projects with academic medical centers and community hospitals, to ambulatory care, and community health centers. A frequent columnist, lecturer, and spokesperson on the benefits of generative space, Tama is dedicated to raising awareness of the impact that design has on health. She has received more than 50 awards and honors for her work. For three consecutive years, Tama was named one of the “Most Influential People in Healthcare Design” by Healthcare Design magazine. Tama is one of a few professionals who have been elected to the College of Fellows for both the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and the American Society of Interior Design (ASID). Follow her on twitter @TamaDuffyDay. 

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