Think Tank: Special Report on Health-Care Design


On March 27th, 2015, in the Chicago office of architecture firm, HDR, one of the recognized leaders in the field of healthcare facility design, a roundtable discussion on a broad range of healthcare design issues took place. Hosted by Metropolis Magazine, a leading architecture and design publication, architects, designers, materials manufacturers, and representatives from the American Medical Association (AMA) participated in a thoughtful discourse on an architectural design process that must facilitate the daily activities and interactions of all the users of healthcare facilities, including the impact on processes and people of new technologies such as electronic health records (EHRs).

To understand just how far-reaching the impact of EHR technology is, it is eye-opening to see EHR systems being addressed by architects and designers in the context of the users’ tangible frustrations, as well as the practical, ‘on the ground’ challenges faced by a wide spectrum of technical disciplines.

According to Meg Barron, Product Development Director of the AMA, “Health care has historically been a very siloed field…We need to break down those silos…For example, health care happens everywhere, not just in a physician’s office…we’re interested in optimizing how results can be achieved through integrated efforts.

Metropolis Editor-in-Chief, Susan S. Szenasy, asked Ms. Barron about how doctors and patients are adapting to innovative technologies, and she replied, “One specific example we often reference is EHRs. Despite good intentions, as a result of physicians having little involvement during EHRs’ development, they have become a huge source of frustration.

Taking this point further, Mike Tutty, Group VP of Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability at the AMA, stated that, “Current EHR technology interferes with physicians’ face-to-face discussions with their patients – requiring them to spend too much time performing clerical work rather than meaningful time with their patients. Therefore, the much-anticipated benefits of being able to share important patient health-care information electronically among providers in different settings have gone unfulfilled. While the vendors that have developed EHRs did receive input….a one-size fits all approach won’t work.

The complexity of both EHR systems and the myriad processes governing healthcare provider and patient interactions requires “technology that’s embedded, intuitive, and visualizing context for conversations” says HDR Strategic Innovation Designer, Joel Worthington.

HDR Design Director, Jim Henry, AIA, succinctly defined the architectural design profession’s challenge in delivering the best case scenario for both patients and care givers, “The goal is to make interacting with the health-care provider as easy and intuitive as a search engine…Not everyone wants to engage with technology in the same way, so you have to balance technology with face time….how do your EHRs translate to your care? It’s very complex, but we’re trying to make it customizable, to give the patient control and alleviate anxiety.

As HIT architecture and systems engineers work toward solving EHR functionality and interoperability issues, it may be worthwhile to seek input from those who are approaching the same situation from a completely different, but acutely aware, angle.

To access and read the original “Think Tank” article published in the September 2015 issue of Metropolis Magazine, follow this link:

Posted by Colleen Thornton, Director, Business Development, IRIS Health Solutions, LLC

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