The Pampered Patient

Clinic makeovers and more personalized amenities are transforming patient care.
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Remember when hospitals and clinics were drab, impersonal places with harsh, fluorescent lights, cluttered hallways and mass-produced rubber-chicken dinners? When drab gray and blah beige were the dominant color schemes? Things have changed, thanks to a boom in hospital construction and a philosophical shift toward patient pampering that goes way beyond valet parking and online registration. Now, Puget Sound hospitals are setting the standards for an enlightened and uplifting approach to patient care.

As competition heats up in the health- care industry and medical centers show their age, hospitals and clinics in the Puget Sound region are spending millions on new and improved facilities—and transforming the way health care is delivered in the process. Hospitals are wooing discriminating clients by offering more amenities and services, some free and some with additional fees. “People do have options these days, and they want to go where the environment is warm and people-oriented,” says Kathy Feek of Kirkland, an art consultant for health-care facilities and the coordinator of Evergreen Hospital Medical Center’s vast art collection. People want a sense of humanity in their medical experience, she says.

Guests wait for appointments in a serene lounge at Virginia Mason’s Breast Clinic

“Historically, health-care facilities and hospitals have really been workshops where physicians came to ply their trade,” says John Milne, vice president of medical affairs for Swedish Medical Center. But he says the vision for health care in the 21st century has shifted to focus on the patient’s—and their family’s—comfort.

Hospitals and clinics in the Puget Sound region are spending millions on new and improved facilities—and transforming the way health care is delivered in the process.

That vision is transforming the hospital experience. The boxy, boring rooms of our grandparents’ day, where sometimes three patients stayed at one time, are being replaced with energy efficient, patient friendly towers offering quieter, single suites for privacy, infection control and comfort. Hospital community spaces now include beautiful fish tanks, healing gardens and sophisticated art collections. Lobbies are warm and welcoming; some even resemble grand foyers at high-end resorts, with elaborate glass atriums and fireplaces. Musicians offer mini-concerts, and licensed professionals provide everything from massages to pet visits and even “mirth therapy” to get patients and their families laughing.

Even intensive care units are being overhauled to improve the patient experience. St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor and St. Elizabeth in Enumclaw, for example, now have “talking beds” in critical care areas that can be programmed to provide critical information and ask and answer questions in 22 languages, a big benefit to nurses and doctors. To ease tension, the beds also massage the patient’s back and emit soothing sounds of waterfalls or chirping birds. It’s designed to provide “an experience for the mind, body and soul,” says Gale Robinette, manager of media relations for Franciscan Health System, which operates five hospitals and a network of 90 clinics in the South Sound. “We want to provide a comfortable, welcoming and safe environment.”

A welcome respite in the healing garden at the Pete Gross House

Hospitals are not only getting makeovers on the inside. Lush gardens with soothing, restorative qualities are being incorporated in many new projects. “They bring a sense of humanity and compassion to patients and families,” says Daniel Winterbottom, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington. Winterbottom has created several restorative gardens, including the rooftop healing garden at the Pete Gross House in Seattle (a temporary housing complex for cancer patients) and Seattle Children’s Play Garden designed for children with disabilities. Winterbottom was motivated to create healing gardens after viewing the glaring fluorescent lights and drab walls at the facility where his mother received ovarian cancer treatments.

It’s not just the facilities and grounds that are changing; hospitals are offering an amazing array of new services as well. Having a baby or thinking of having one? Try “OB Speed Dating” sessions at Swedish Medical Center. Participants conduct five-minute, one-on-one interviews with six to eight obstetricians, family-practice doctors who offer OB services and midwives. “It’s all about face time and sitting in front of that physician to see if you connect,” says Kellie Ryan, a business development specialist for Women and Infants Outpatient Services at Swedish. If you hit it off with a specific practitioner, you can schedule a follow-up “date” for medical care. “This was the perfect way to find just the right OB/GYN,” says Elizabeth Willis of Maple Valley after attending one of the sessions. “I wish they had this for pediatricians.”

An artistic lighting display soothes patients coming in for radiation therapy at Swedish Medical Center, Issaquah

There are diversions designed for family members and caregivers, too. While waiting for your spouse to come out of surgery, head to Evergreen Hospital Medical Center’s lobby to listen to soothing piano music played by rotating volunteers. At Overlake Hospital Medical Center, treat yourself to a violin concert. Grab an art walk brochure at Evergreen, Swedish, Harborview or the UW Medical Center, and wander the halls in search of the works of noted artists. Enjoy a leisurely gourmet lunch at Swedish Issaquah’s Café 1910 or sit and relax by the spectacular fountain at Valley Medical Center.

While the wave of new hospital amenities and patient and family friendly programs might seem like costly marketing ploys to some, others see the changes as earnest attempts at revolutionary health-care reform. Says Beth Zborowski, director of communications for the Washington State Hospital Association: “The ultimate goal is to make sure patients [and their families] have the best health-care experience possible, which includes providing an environment that is conducive to healing.” ✚