“When we have good design and a good system, the doctors can focus their time on taking care of patients,” says Tan Seang Teak, Group Chief Operating Officer of Hoan My Medical Corporation, Vietnam’s largest private healthcare network.

A well-designed hospital can make a difference by helping patients feel more welcome, and creating a better environment for clinicians and staff, Tan tells Hospital Insider. His work focuses on “how a hospital can be built to be more efficient, with better safety and also providing patients with better experience and quality of care”.

In establishing a new hospital, “the first thing is making sure that the design is right, that it follows international criteria, infection control, workflow”, Tan explains. “If from step one, the hospital is not designed properly, we are compromising a lot of infection control and safety procedures.”

A more welcoming space helps healing

A simple example of bad hospital design is a long registration counter where nurses are one side and patients are on the other. “You have something like a Great Wall of China separating patients and healthcare providers,” Tan notes. Counters can be designed to encourage interaction between both sides, which can “actually enhance the quality of care”.

This concept extends to the rest of the hospital environment as well – for instance, moving away from the tradition where “everything is white”, Tan suggests. “When you are in an environment that is more friendly, and more homely, you tend to interact with each other more warmly,” he says.

It is simply about understanding human behaviour, he remarks – a more welcoming environment can help doctors and nurses to work better together. Friendly and effective design plays a key role in patient-centred design, Tan notes.

Last week, Vogue Australia reported on a new wing in a hospital in Victoria that was designed with patients’ recovery and comfort in mind. Architects used natural wood panelling in wards, hid equipment out of sight, gave rooms green views. “We wanted to ensure new levels of dignity, comfort and safety,” the architecture studio director was quoted as saying. The team also worked with hospital staff to design medical workspaces that were highly functional, yet soothing.

Letting doctors do what they do best

Good hospital design is just one aspect of the whole. It is also important to introduce strict standard operating procedures, and at the same time, relieve clinicians of the burden of administrative work, Tan continues.

Many hospitals today are relying on outsourcing non-clinical services, such as facilities management, lab services, and supply chain, he explains. “I think this is a trend that is moving forward; a lot of hospitals will need to do that.”

This way, doctors do not need to worry about administrative duties, and will be able to devote themselves to what they do best – providing high quality care. Service providers can support hospital administrators in running some of the hospital operations, so that the administrators can focus on recruiting and training doctors. “They can bring the economy of scale, as well as the economy of skills with new techniques and procedures to take a hospital run more efficiently,” says Tan.

On a broader level, healthcare ecosystems as a whole have much to learn from other industries. Fast moving consumer goods companies have been using consumer behaviour techniques, analytics and digital marketing for years now. But all these methods are still new to healthcare, Tan says. “It is now beginning to be adopted in terms of analysis of patients’ behaviour, as well as their satisfaction.”

Perhaps one day, hospitals will not be perceived as cold, sterile, unfeeling spaces any longer. There is an opportunity for new hospitals to be built to encourage interaction, collaboration and healing.

Tan will be speaking at Hospital Management Asia next week on 11-12 September in Hanoi.