Why Architects Need Empathy To Design For Healthcare

Remember for whom we design

Why Architects Need Empathy To Design For Healthcare

by Debra Lemons, AIA, IIDA, Director of Interior Design

Upon returning from the 2015 Healthcare Design Expo and Conference in Washington D.C. earlier this month, my team members and I were reflecting on the vast quantity of educational offerings and new products we experienced.  We shared the various "nuggets" and take-aways, including the newest planning trends for a medical office building or free-standing emergency department, research on social behavior in waiting areas, and evidence-based design concepts for patient rooms of the future.  I was most inspired by sessions involving patient experience, particularly one titled, "Improving the Patient and Family Experience:  Increasing your HCAHPS Scores Through Design," in which the presenters1 analyzed the actual Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey questions, sorted them into categories such as "patient dignity," "staff responsiveness," or “pain management,” to name a few, and then translated those concepts into design applications. 


Most compelling, however, was the opening of the presentation, in which the speaker reminded us that the reason we were all there was the patient.  She proceeded to show the short video, "Empathy:  The Human Connection to Patient Care," produced for the Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education.  I invite you to view it here.

I was humbled.  As we grapple with constricting budgets and aggressive schedules, while aspiring to create modern masterpieces of healthcare architecture, may we approach these tasks and challenges with empathy and remember for whom we design. 


Our infusion treatment room at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Cancer Center
gives patients access to natural light and views of nature.

Remember the patients, the clinicians, the environmental services staff - not only for their functional needs, but for their humanity.  Furthermore, as we enter the holiday season, may we pause to consider the people at the core or on the fringe of our every day lives - our families, our co-workers, our clients, the cashier at the supermarket- and the silent journeys they might be on. Stand a day in their shoes.

Wishing you blessings of hope, peace, and the gift of empathy.  Happy Holidays!


1. Increasing Your HCAHPS Scores through Design | Joan Suchomel, AIA, ACHA, EDAC, Director, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP; Deborah Hayes, RN, MS, MSN, NI, NEA-BC, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, The Christ Hospital Health Network | http://www.healthcaredesignmagazine.com/conference/educational-programs#E45



designing excellence

About Debra Lemons, AIA, IIDA

With over 20 years of experience in both architecture and interior design, Debra brings her leadership, management and design talent to HuntonBrady Architects. As Director of Interior Design, Debra is responsible for the authorship of the interior design work produced by the firm for every market group including commercial, healthcare and education.

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