In my last post I wrote about an innovative, collaborative approach we took in designing the new UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care (Figure 1). Using a health-centered approach helped us assure that every design decision was rooted in a comprehensive understanding of how it would impact the health and well-being of every patient, clinician, staff member, and visitor. By elevating the role of both patient and staff in the design-process, we were able to co-create a space that promotes health, wellness, and restoration. While my last post focused on the role of the Patient Advisory Group, today I want to share how creating a “Whole Person Health Design Team” impacted our design solution.


Figure 1: Both Patient Advisory Groups and a “Whole Person Health” design team consisting of staff that spend a majority of their time with patients worked along CannonDesign’s design time to co-create the new UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care.

An Elevated Role for Patient-Oriented Staff

While most design processes incorporate interviews with a broad range of stakeholders and departments that will be using the new building, staff who spend most of their time with patients are often spoken to in isolation about the aspect of the project that most strongly relates to their particular role. For example, registration personnel are asked about the registration desk. Social workers are asked about their offices. But that isn’t really where they work. They interact with patients in an array of different environments throughout the building. Grouping these departments under the word “support” and only seeking their input in siloed user groups does not do justice to the important role they play in patient care.

Recognizing this, we identified the staff who work with patients in multiple settings, people who spend the most time with patients – patient/family support, cancer center intake, social work, rehab services, lobby personnel, clinical research, palliative care, complimentary/alternative medicine, food and nutrition, survivorship, patient education, and prevention/cancer control – and formed them into a design team. This team was collectively responsible for identifying how to make the patient experience the best it could possibly be and how to create the best environment possible for every person in the new facility.

Renaming this group the “Whole Person Health Design Team” sent the message that this group was to take on responsibility beyond giving individual input about a singular location. Instead, they were encouraged to use their vast experience in multiple healthcare settings to help design an environment focused on health…whole person health.

A Layered Environment of Discovery and Surprise

There were numerous discussions about the number of times a cancer patient will visit a Cancer Center during the course of their treatment…more than 100 times.  The Whole Person Health Team helped develop the concept that each visit should present the opportunity for a new experience, a small surprise, a moment of respite. This concept became ubiquitous throughout the new Center.  There are numerous points of discovery where natural light, multi-story spaces, subtlety changing colors, and quiet nooks create a dynamic environment (Figure 2).  At the recent opening of the Center, I came upon a group from the team as they were excitedly discussing the numerous “discovery moments” and how much they would be appreciated by patients, visitors and staff.


Figure 2: Throughout the new cancer center, natural light, multi-story spaces, subtlety changing colors, and quiet nooks create a dynamic environment that allows patients to discover something new in the space every time they visit.

Creating Greater Function Based on Experience

ProHealth_Living Room

Figure 3: The living room is an infusion area that offer patients control over their environment with options for varying levels of privacy that include private rooms, semi-enclosed bays, or small clusters.

The team worked collectively to bring forward great ideas about what would be most helpful for their interactions with patients in various settings. For example, when we were designing the “living room” (Figure 3) in the new facility – an infusion center option that provides an array of different settings for receiving treatment in intimate clusters – it was this team that identified the need for privacy nooks adjacent to the space. These lounges can be used to have sensitive conversations (e.g. about financials) as opposed to having to use a private room for this function.

Healthy Behaviors Take Priority

When it came down to finalizing the location and size of key programmatic elements of the space, the team advocated for keeping the Rehab Center as the center of activity in the building and expanding the role it plays to also offer prehab services. We took that back to the executive team and made sure they understood how vital the location of this element was to encouraging cancer patients to participate in prehab and rehab before, during and after their treatment.  By having this space central and visible, patient use will be increased, which evidence shows reduces overall length of treatment and improves overall health.

The health of staff was also a focus of this group.  Access to off-stage respite spaces and fresh air are critical to the clinicians who face stressful and heart-breaking situations every day.  Every staff lounge has access to a private outdoor patio.

There were numerous other examples like this throughout the process that demonstrate the tremendous impact of co-creating with the whole person health team. As a result of working with both this team and the Patient Advisory throughout the design process, the cancer center is truly transformative in both operations and design – with one informing the other in very fluid ways.

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