January 6, 2016
By Ana Pinto-Alexander, RID, IIDA, EDAC, Principal, Group Director for Health Interiors

International healthcare projects require an understanding of different cultures. Construction techniques, healthcare delivery methods and social constructs differ around the world. To create healthcare interiors that meet local needs, designers must accept these differences with open minds, without judgment. 

I recently presented on this topic at the Healthcare Facilities Symposium and Expo with Margi Kaminski, senior associate vice president of health sciences, RTKL Associates Inc.; Wayne Ruga, founder and president, the CARITAS Project; and Jocelyn Stroupe, director of healthcare interiors, Canon Design. 

Knowledge of a region’s construction methods is important to designing appropriately for that area. Laborers in India, for example, can execute very beautiful floor patterns. In China, a large workforce can complete construction projects quickly; Aiyuhua Hospital for Women and Children, Beijing, is an eight-story, state-of-the-art facility that was built in just 12 months. Choosing materials and designs that match the strengths of local builders is an essential first step to successful design implementation.

Healthcare delivery methods also influence designs. In China, people generally prefer to take medications intravenously instead of orally. Outpatient facilities in this area of the world include IV windows where patients can receive their medication. Hospitals in the Netherlands have very low rates of healthcare-acquired infections, which they maintain in part through strict cleanability standards that all interior materials and finishes must meet. In India, where medical tourism is prevalent (and local labor for hospital environmental services staff is inexpensive), amenities, like draperies in patient rooms, are desirable. In the United Kingdom, people tend not to linger in health facilities; here, simple interior designs are preferred. 

Social structures are important to consider in designing healthcare interiors as well. Separate waiting and dining areas are needed to maintain the segregation of men from women and families in Saudi Arabia, for example. Amenities are key to Saudi Arabian health facilities, with patient floors that range from the regular population to VIPs to royals. And east-facing prayer rooms are important in any location with a large Muslim population. 

I learn a lot from designing healthcare projects around the world — every day is something new. As healthcare designers, we design experiences that are expressed through the built environment. Understanding other cultures and creating environments for care that work within those cultures give me a great sense of well-being. 

Posted in Health