Medical Advances

Where Efficiency, Aesthetics and Experience Meet

How Northwestern Medicine Is Innovating Hospital Design

For many people, hospitals bring to mind images of stark hallways and grim waiting rooms, of difficult times in unforgiving environments, but it doesn’t have to be that way – a hospital doesn’t have to feel like a hospital.

The idea that a welcoming, comfortable hospital can improve patient outcomes is at the heart of hospital re-design and it’s the reason organizations like the American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA) bestow awards that recognize hospitals that are transforming healthcare through better-built environments.

In 2016, the ACHA recognized Northwestern Memorial Hospital, built in 1999, with the Legacy Project Award, for its forward-thinking design and enduring excellence. Since then, Northwestern Medicine has only continued its commitment to innovative healthcare design, not only in updates to Central DuPage Hospital, Delnor Hospital, Kishwaukee Hospital and Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, but also with more recent developments like the Lavin Family Pavilion and the new Lake Forest Hospital.

So, what makes hospital design innovative? At Northwestern Medicine, it comes down to the seamless integration of comfort, efficiency and community.

Or more specifically, these 7 types of space:

1. Private Space

In 1999, Northwestern Memorial Hospital was one of the first to dedicate private rooms to all patients and not only private rooms, but rooms with enough space for family members to feel comfortable and encouraged to stay. When Central DuPage Hospital was redesigned, each private room was built to include a separate family area with sofa, recliner, television and work station. Since then, private rooms have become the norm and research continues to support the practice. Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital was one of the first rehabilitation hospitals to offer private rooms. When the new hospital was built, the design was deliberately chosen to accommodate any disability and all sizes of therapy equipment in both private rooms and bathrooms.

Not only are private, single rooms associated with a lower risk of hospital-borne infection and contamination, they are also linked to fewer falls. Research has document the negative effects of noise on patient outcomes, which single rooms offer significantly less of.

Furthermore, private rooms encourage longer, more thorough discussions between patient and physicians, and hospitals designed with private rooms report fewer instances of patients withholding information or refusing exams due to privacy concerns. Patient and family’s emotional wellbeing can also benefit from a single room, offering privacy during a stressful time and flexibility to personalize the room with items from home to make the visit more comfortable.

2. Pleasant Space

Bright, open and inviting environments have become the calling card of Northwestern Medicine locations, such as Central DuPage Hospital and Delnor Hospital. Moreover, Lake Forest Hospital boasts 65 percent open space over 104 acres. Northwestern Memorial Hospital was designed with patient rooms on the exterior to maximize natural light and provide patients with enjoyable views. And at Marianjoy, every patient room features floor to ceiling windows to provide views of the surrounding prairie, woods and campus gardens. The gardens are part of a holistic approach that considers mental, physical and spiritual needs. For example, in the Enabling Garden, bricks of varying textures are used to give patients space and varying textures and surfaces to practice walking and balance.

Natural light has been shown to impact outcomes in healthcare settings through its impact on the circadian system. Specifically, research links natural light with reducing depression, decreasing length of stay, improving sleep and lessening agitation, as well as generally improving the mood and emotional wellbeing of patients and staff.

Even the interior design and art throughout Northwestern Medicine hospitals was chosen with careful consideration. For example, at Marianjoy, the color scheme was chosen and tested to ensure patients with poor vision could read and see properly. Furthermore, certain art styles have been shown to reduce stress and the Northwestern Memorial Hospital collection was curated based on research that mild, naturalistic visual art lowers heart rates, diminishes the perception of pain, increases patient satisfaction and reduces nursing turnover.

3. Community Space

Northwestern Medicine is making strides to create spaces that can be a health and wellness destination for the community before they become a part of their care needs. At Lake Forest Hospital, the walking and biking trails wind throughout the 160-acre campus. Downtown, the Lavin Family Pavilion, which includes the outpatient surgery center and the Northwestern Medicine Spine Center, is home to food and retail vendors hand-picked in response to community feedback and with a priority on health and wellness. At Marianjoy, it’s common to find patients and their families enjoying the accessible mile-long tree-lined path, or socially congregating in the hospital’s spacious lobbies.

The Leishman Center for Culinary Health inside Kishwaukee Hospital takes community wellness one step further. The center is used to teach students how to choose and prepare food to benefit their personal health. The 1,500-square-foot teaching kitchen opened in 2015, and features main cooking demonstration and prep areas with four participant kitchens for hands-on learning experiences.

4. Navigable Space

The trails at Lake Forest Hospital also make for an exceptionally efficient and easy to navigate campus for patients and staff alike. Northwestern Medicine has long pioneered way-finding layouts that offer pleasant experiences and intuitive navigation.

This is especially relevant to nurses, who spend nearly a third of their time walking. The type of layout – single corridor, double corridor, radial – influences walking time and time saved walking can be spent with patients and families.

5. Efficient Space

Easy navigation makes for more efficient care, but architectural efforts to improve efficiency do not end there. Northwestern Memorial Hospital uses a circulation model that separates the patient hallways on the exterior from a parallel corridor for physicians and staff to move freely. Moreover, the hospital distanced itself from the then-common design that separated inpatient and outpatient services. Having a variety of specialties and services in one location allows physicians to easily transition between inpatient and outpatient settings without leaving the building, which can save 15-20 percent of a physician’s time.

The nurses’ stations at Marianjoy were created to allow for full views and more efficient observation of patients.

At Lake Forest Hospital, all the patient rooms share the same layout so that all medical supplies are easily accessible, allowing time otherwise spent searching for equipment to be spent caring and interacting with the patient.

6. Sustainable Space

Sustainability is one of the more tangential innovations of Northwestern Medicine buildings. Seventy-five percent of the flooring used in Northwestern Memorial Hospital is naturally based linoleum and Northwestern Medicine has reiterated its commitment to achieving at least a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver rating for all new projects. The Lavin Family Pavilion has a LEED Gold rating.

When the new Marianjoy Hospital was built, the oaks and shagbarks on the property were repurposed, and the wood was then utilized to make the furniture for the chapel and board room. Marianjoy also installed solar panels with the support of a grant to keep pool water at 93 degrees, the optimal temperature for water therapy.

Sustainability also takes the form of long-term value and adaptability. In the cases of both the Lavin Family Pavilion and the new Lake Forest Hospital, this is evident in their mixed-use features and their ability to promote wellness.

7. Adaptable Space

Perhaps most notable about the design style of Northwestern Medicine is the ability to keep innovating. Northwestern Medicine tapped a design team that uses a unique, proprietary universal grid system that allows the buildings to remain flexible over time. That means renovations to increase emergency department volume or relocate the behavioral health unit or update the technology in operating rooms can happen with maximum speed and optimization for efficient, operational and patient-centered programs.

Healthcare design is an increasingly popular field of study and providers like Northwestern Medicine are turning to architects who can incorporate evidence-based design. Physical environment can impact patient and staff outcomes, specifically reducing stress, increasing effectiveness and improving safety and overall healthcare quality and the hospitals at Northwestern Medicine not only follow many of these best practices, they have the adaptable framework to innovate again when the time comes.