Architecture & Design, Health Care, and Manufacturing

Steelcase works to design health care's future

Emphasis is more on health than on care.

September 19, 2014
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Steelcase Health
Steelcase’s redesigned exam room strives for better communication between the medical provider, patient and family members. Courtesy Steelcase

The world’s best and brightest in medicine are plotting the future of health care from the comfort of Steelcase furniture.

The Steelcase Health brand has once again designed, curated and furnished spaces for the TEDMED and Mayo Transform conferences.

TEDMED was held simultaneously this past week in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, and the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation hosted Mayo Transform last week also.

Both events were looking for spaces designed to spur interaction between participants, said Jason Vanderground, manager of global communications for Steelcase.

“As soon as the speakers are off stage, they want the delegates to be able to connect together — to eat, to share ideas, to understand what each other is doing,” he explained.

Steelcase has been involved with the annual TED conference since the 1980s and for several years has provided furniture for TEDMED.

“We saw the value of extending our network — getting outside our industry, getting connected with other people — to spur our own ideas and innovative thinking,” Vanderground said. “Because we are the health brand of Steelcase, being involved with TEDMED made a lot of sense.”

The health-care industry is changing dramatically, and Steelcase Health is working to provide solutions for the changing landscape.

“I think you are seeing this huge shift from an illness system where we are just treating people who are already sick, to much more of a wellness health-care system,” Vanderground said. “There has been a lot of talk this week that health and health care are not necessarily the same thing. Health is something that is much bigger than just the health-care system.”

One of Steelcase Health’s objectives is to design health-care settings in ways that are conducive to helping patients develop healthier attitudes and behaviors.

Vanderground said if you look at the traditional exam room and the clinician/patient interaction it fosters, there are many things that can be changed to improve health outcomes.

For example, having patients sitting on exam tables even when they are not being examined can create an awkward, uncomfortable situation. Not having spaces within the exam room for an accompanying family member who needs to be equally appraised of their loved one’s health, and having technology that is only usable by the clinician are some of the other barriers, Vanderground noted.

He said exam rooms should be educational spaces where patients, family members and clinicians all have equal access to information and opportunities for comfortable interaction: “Focusing on how that can be a teaching and learning space so patients can understand new information about themselves and then act on it, and their family can be there and be integrated into the experience in a comfortable way,” he said. “Even empowering the clinician so they can have a different type of interaction with the patient.”

Technology is advancing rapidly in health care, and Steelcase Health is focused on supporting the integration of technology, people and places to create a connected experience.

“The technology is significantly changing how health care is experienced, the information that people can get,” he said. “We find technology needs to be incorporated into the space in a way that works for everybody involved.”

Vanderground said he sometimes hears pushback when he speaks on the topic of health care and design from those who think health care has enough on its plate already. He counters with the argument that efficient design actually supports some of the major priorities the heath care and wellness industry are trying to achieve.

“They have to manage their costs; they are looking for new ways to generate revenue; they are held accountable more for health outcomes and are trying to improve the quality and safety of care; and the fourth one is around satisfying patients.

“Patients can act as customers and compare how different health care organizations perform and make decisions based on that,” he explained.

“If we really focus on the people involved in health care, designing for the patients, family and clinicians involved, and if we can find new ways of humanizing the health care experience, we believe that will help lead to better outcomes and more satisfaction.”

Vanderground noted health and wellness are not limited to Steelcase’s Health brand, but really are encompassed in all of its designs, including its education and business products.

“We focus very much on an observational research approach where we go out and study people — how they are interacting in a space, what is working well, what’s not working well, what are the pain points they experience — and a lot of things are well-being related,” he said. “Even in corporations, well-being is a bottom line issue.”

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