According to Troy May, health-care providers are taking a lesson from the hospitality industry: provide customers with as pleasant an experience as possible.

According to Troy May, health-care providers are taking a lesson from the hospitality industry: provide customers with as pleasant an experience as possible. But it’s a little more difficult for health-care professionals, since patients don’t exactly feel like they’re on vacation when they visit a medical facility. Still, providers are trying to improve how they deliver medical care, which includes offering patients a less stressful environment. So, instead of sterile rooms with white-washed walls, glaring lights and institutional furniture, medical facilities are beginning to add a little color to the walls, install indirect lighting and provide designer furniture. “It works,” said Arden Freeman, principal at Columbus, Ohio-based DSI Architects. About 90 percent of the firm’s business includes design work for health-care facilities, such as those for long-term and outpatient services.

The drive behind interior design changes in health-care facilities is similar to what happens in retail, he said. “People will go out of their way to shop at a new shopping center, when they can get the same thing down the street in the old shopping center,” Freeman said.

Competition is a factor, at least for hospitals’ maternity wards. As other hospitals in Central Ohio refurbished their maternity units to look more like home, Ohio State University Medical Center decided to jump on the bandwagon. In September, the medical center opened its $5 million maternity unit that tries to provide a homey atmosphere, with amenities such as hardwood floors, massage showers, aromatherapy, televisions, VCRs and compact disc players. The rooms have large windows to provide a view of the Ohio State campus, high ceilings and skylights. The medical equipment is hidden behind wooden cabinets. “We want people to be comfortable when they come here,” said Stephanie Vick, director of women and infant nursing at Ohio State, where 3,200 women delivered their babies in 1998. The unit, which opened Sept. 14, includes 13 labor and delivery rooms, and a total reconstruction of the maternity space to add more natural light, a home-style kitchen for family and friends and couches that can be used for sleeping. “It’s what the women wanted,” Vick said. Officials at ReVision in Columbus had the patient in mind when designing a new medical office. “The design came from trying to express who we are and mirror our personality,” said Mark Corroto, executive director of ReVision Advanced Laser Eye Center Inc., a physician’s office that performs eyesight correction surgery to eliminate the need for glasses.

It was important to build an attractive space to meet the needs of potential patients. “Everything we do here is elective. People come here because they want to,” Corroto said. Some people fear eye correction surgery might not be safe and could leave them blind. That’s why ReVision wanted the space to showcase the operating room, where 12 to 15 patients undergo surgery each week. “We want people to see that there isn’t any danger, they have surgery and get up and walk out,” Corroto said. The lobby and operating room are separated by an oval wall, half of which is a window to allow patients in the waiting area to watch the surgery. A television near the laser shows a close-up view of the procedure. “We’ve found that this could help people have a positive experience, when they can see what happens,” Corroto said.

The trend toward designing less stressful environments for patients began in the South where for-profit hospitals were trying to lure patients away from their nonprofit competitors. Many of these redesigned hospitals are small, so the designs are less costly to implement than they would be for the the Midwest’s larger urban hospitals, said Freeman, who designed ReVision’s office. The size of the hospitals and the fact that Columbus’ medical centers are still nonprofit has discouraged the trend from catching on here, Freeman said. But the trend may be starting to spread outside of maternity wards and small medical centers. At the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute at OSU, 116 patient rooms are being upgraded to give patients a more “warm, residential look,” Freeman said. Freeman’s firm did the design on the $3.2 million project, which will include hardwood-style floors, counters that look like marble, various colored walls, carpeting in the halls and stencil crown molding in the patients’ rooms.