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  • Jeremy McCarthy

The Hospital of the Future is more like a Hotel

Susie Ellis from Spafinder and Susie’s Spa Blog recently wrote about her visit to tour the brand new Methodist Stone Oak Hospital that had opened in San Antonio, Texas in Spring of 2009. The hospital has apparently declared itself the “hospital of the future” featuring state of the art design and architecture, accompanied by a level of service that goes above and beyond what one typically finds in health care.

Here is an excerpt of what Susie experienced on the tour from her blog:

We were dropped off in a circular drive and had there been a valet to open the door and ask about luggage, I might have thought I was entering a hotel. The lobby did feel more hotel-like than hospital. There were huge ceilings with windows top to bottom. It was light, with attractive lounge areas that were tastefully and expensively appointed and straight ahead of me two concierge areas. Also, some nice art.

It is exciting to see hospitals being built following some of the principles of hotel design and service. Traditionally, hospitals were built for function and not for comfort, and little thought was put in to how the environment might make a patient feel. The emphasis has been on providing the necessary equipment and facilities to adequately treat the physical ailments of the patient in a hygienic way. Unfortunately, while hygiene is important to the physical health of their patients, the cold sterile environment usually makes a visit to a hospital even less enjoyable than it needs to be.

Hotels on the other hand have a totally different design approach. Their goal is to reach far beyond the functional aspects of providing a place for their guests to sleep. They hope to use their designs to evoke an emotion and elicit certain feelings from their guests. Lighting, artwork, comfortable furniture, and even fragrances help to contribute to just the right ambience that the hotel is trying to create. Some will argue that these are all the trappings of luxury and have no place in a health care setting where the importance rests on the scientific validity and measurable outcomes of medical interventions, not on indulging clients with overstuffed furniture to make them feel at home.

But research is beginning to show us that our physical health is not independent from our mental state and mood. Hospital environments that create anxiety may be counterproductive to the healing that takes place there. And conversely, hospital experiences that are welcoming, inviting and put people at ease might not only convince people to get the care they need, but also make their body more receptive to the care being administered (see my article and video on “In Defense of Pampering.”)

The Methodist Stone Oak Hospital is right when they describe themselves as the “hospital of the future”. Most new hospital developments seem to be borrowing from the spa and hotel design manuals. And since, patients often have a choice in where they receive their care, creating facilities that make healing more enjoyable means more dollars in the hospitals’ coffers. You can read other blogs on the subject here, here and here. Recently, a study was done in Japan to look at how applying hotel design principles to hospital settings could improve patient experiences.

It makes sense that hospitals and hotels would have some elements in common. The word hospital comes from the Latin “hospes” meaning “host”, the same root used in “hospitality”, “hostel” and “hotel” (from And the similarities don’t end once the hospital is designed. It can also translate into better customer service and a new way of taking care of patients. Here is one more excerpt from Susie Ellis:

The hospital was impressive for many reasons but it wasn’t the physical aspects that impressed me the most. Rather, it was the kindness, caring and even lighthearted atmosphere that was created by the people who worked there. In my opinion their greatest move was to carefully select staff with exactly the qualities they wanted – flexibility, likability, caring and nurturing. This hospital had the luxury to be selective because so many people want to work there.

Stories like these hold great promise for the future of health care. Hospitals are supposed to be centers for healing and recovery. Today, we look forward to going to a spa or a hotel or a resort, but we dread visiting the hospital. As a society we need more healing institutions that we can look forward to visiting, knowing that we will be well taken care of and we will leave feeling better than we did when we arrived.

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