By Leigh Walker, Senior Interior Designer

You think you’re the cancer center design expert, right? You have all the programmatic and planning elements covered: Adjacencies, check. Equipment, check. Clearances, check.

But have you considered the intangible aspects of a cancer center’s design and how they can have a significant impact on how the space is experienced? In general healthcare facilities are moving away from stark, clinical interiors to more functional, aesthetically comfortable spaces. These environments promote healing and have led to higher patient satisfaction and increased employee productivity and retention.

Designing for someone who just received a life-changing diagnosis or who is in the throes of battling cancer requires extra thought, compassion, and input from patients, their families, and staff. The feel of a cancer center sets the tone for a patient’s entire visit and shapes their perception of the treatment they’ll receive.

How can you design a space the promotes a healing environment for the patient? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Embrace Empathy: What would feel warm and comfortable to you if you were an oncology patient or their family member? What support or services would you or a loved one benefit from? What about the built environment would help make your time easier and less stressful?    
  • Pull from Your Own Experiences: Unfortunately, so many of us have either experienced a cancer diagnosis personally or have known someone going through treatment. You might be surprised by what you can glean from your own experiences and those of family and friends.   
  • Listen to the Clinical Heroes: They’re the compassionate and caring people on the front lines of the fight against cancer. They’ve seen it all. They know what does and doesn’t work well, have great ideas on how processes can be improved, and can help the design team gain a better understanding of the challenges someone battling cancer is facing both physically and emotionally. 
  • Engage a Patient Advisory Committee: Every cancer patient and their journey is unique.  Patients and their caregivers are often more than happy to share their experiences in the hopes that they can help shape a better experience for someone else. It’s therapeutic for them to talk and share ideas … and you may even be surprised (and humbled) by what you learn!

Treating cancer patients involves so much more than just administering chemo or radiation or performing surgery. These patients need a holistic approach to care for their minds and bodies. Being mindful of patients’ experiences can help you create a calm, stress-free environment that makes them feel cared for and secure.