In a previous posts, we explored the idea of evidence-based design, the place where science and aesthetics join forces to help patients and healthcare professionals. Today's post highlights one of today's hybrid designers who is paving the way towards the hospital room of the future, Megan Kalina. This Medical Planner's ideas come to life in life-saving healthcare facilities around the country.
Why your doctor’s exam room now has a window
Evidence-based design, or EBD, has been an emerging trend in architecture design for the past two decades. Practitioners of EBD value design decisions based on scientifically proven strategies, from color choices to efficient wayfinding (signs, markers, arrows, etc). A Senior Medical Equipment Planner at IMEG Corp, Megan Kalina is on the front lines of Evidence Based Design, a career trajectory that began when she was a child.
Early experiences lead to a lifelong mission
Early, first-hand exposures to hospitals left a lasting impression on Megan Kalina: Hospitals are scary places. As she entered college, an interest in medicine and chemistry influenced her talents in design as she entered Indiana University’s interior design and planning program whose technical focus allowed her take inspiration from both science and aesthetics. There she remembered her childhood fear and stress in healthcare facilities and determined “I wanted to fix that.” This would prove to be her lifelong professional mission.
After graduation, it took several years in the field to gain the experience necessary to specialize in healthcare facilities. While EBD followed her on her career path, once she was able to work exclusively in healthcare settings, she found her home designing “functional spaces that help reduce the stress of patients and their caregivers.”
“Reduce stress and make the space as intuitive as possible.” As a designer, Kalina uses her early experiences as well as scientific research to inform her design choices. “Anxiety is already high if you are in a hospital,” she notes; her goal is to design spaces that are able to help guide, serve, and even comfort individuals who are experiencing stress, pain, and emotional turmoil. When users are already preoccupied by health and other concerns, the spaces must be as easy to navigate and utilize as possible.
But sometimes distractions can be a good thing, especially if they can provide a brief escape from distress. Cold and institutional elements may be required, such as handrails, bright lights, and equipment, but the environment should still be “psychologically uplifting,” giving the patients and visitors moments of warmth, beauty, nature, and calm amidst the surrounding turmoil. Each small detail, from casework to wayfinding, must serve a functional purpose, but each is an opportunity for visual relief when carefully planned through application of the research and attention given to the potential of the healing environment.
You may imagine that an architect or planner would pick a cutting-edge technology or software as their favorite design tool. Capturing the EBD philosophy perfectly, Kalina’s favorite design tool is light. She noted one particular study that demonstrated individuals will unconsciously walk towards a lighted area, indicating that the purposeful use of light can help guide without words or symbols. As a result of this research as well as her own design aesthetic, each of Kalina’s designs feature access to sunlight and carefully designed interior lights. What is it like seeing your designs come to life in a life-saving space? “It’s an indescribable feeling,” Kalina responds, the emotion in her voice conveying the significance of playing a role in “fixing” the problem she encountered years ago as a young patient.
We may all intuitively understand how access to nature and beauty in design elements can help patients be more comfortable, but the power of EBD is that rigorous scientific research is now able to back those intuitions with hard data. As Kalina explains, every aspect of a construction project is examined and reexamined in order to maximize the financial commitment to the project. Proposed design elements, especially those that could be termed merely “aesthetic,” must have a solid justification to survive value engineering. To this end, researchers have collected data on how different design choices affect a patient’s hospital experience. Over the decades since the first research began, results have shown time and time again that natural light, colors, sound reduction, and room layouts (among other elements) make a measurable difference in the patient experience. This data has helped EBD practitioners such as Kalina explain to clients the importance of their design choices. “Some of these design ideas are intuitive, but now they are bolstered by research.” And this makes all the difference to the bottom line.
In order to formalize the growing specialty of EBD and reduce the “trendiness” factor, a certification program and exam have been created. Designers such as Kalina can now identify their specialty with this certification, while also gaining membership to a growing community of practitioners. As the research grows in this specialty, the principals of EBD move from a consideration to a “best practices” necessity.
The future of EBD
For a growing body of architects and designers, Evidence-Based Design is just that – a necessity. As a champion and practitioner of EBD, Kalina hopes it continues to grow as a research field. “People are paying attention to how design affects us,” Kalina reflects. Looking forward, Kalina would love to play a role in designing the patient room of the future – one with a huge window letting in the sun, and where a little girl won’t have to be scared of the hospital.
Megan has specialized in the design of healthcare facilities since 1999, first as an Interior Designer and currently as a Medical Equipment Planner. A former member of Future Problem Solvers of America, Megan’s focus is to improve the healthcare experience for patients and staff by fully understanding the functional needs of each modality and developing a space solution to support those needs for every user. Her primary focus is the people who use the space, and she credits her training as an Interior Designer for enabling her to think “at the people level” instead of from just the floor plan or building construction perspective. Megan often serves as the liaison between her clients and the architects to ensure that all functional needs are translated properly into the final built product.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in January 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.