C2AE's Hannah Snyder on Healthcare Design

You’ve been prescribed to have induced seizures, restricted to lying in bed or sitting in a chair with little room for visitors: this is the standard for anyone being admitted to Spectrum Health’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU). Healthcare continues to strive for innovation. Yet in a typical EMU, the patient’s and visitor’s experiences are compromised because of one key component: safety. Having a seizure often means that going through daily practices requires caution, because a cup of hot coffee or a sharp countertop edge will cause injury. It is our responsibility as designers to ensure the safety of the patient.

As a senior at Kendall College of Art and Design, my class partnered with the Spectrum Health Innovations team to devote a semester to research, cultivating a design solution to overcome both the safety concerns in an EMU, and to also create a positive patient experience that helped to induce seizures. A person is admitted to an EMU because they are having flare ups in their epilepsy and is looking to discover more information on why they are getting seizures. An EMU provides a safe environment for patients to be monitored 24/7. It was then our goal to make the patient stay as short as possible, and the sooner the patient experienced a seizure, the sooner they could go home. Most patients admitted are generally healthy people, so being put on bedrest for days at a time is difficult to manage. We were then challenged to think beyond what we thought of as a hospital stay and were expected to explore solutions delving into material use.

One of the biggest challenges with designing an EMU is providing safety with materials. Healthcare requires materials to be easy to clean, which usually lends itself to cold, hard surfaces. If a person were to have a seizure and fall on these surfaces, it will lead to injury, which is a major concern. We also had to keep in mind that we were designing for the future. For example, in its current state, patients have wires attached to their scalp to monitor their brain; however technology has been developed for a wireless EEG headset, making restrictions based on wired equipment no longer needed. In addition to that, so that patients could be studied in a safe space, we used design cues to encourage and induce seizures. Throughout the semester we met with and got feedback from nurses, EEG techs, the infection prevention department, the facilities department, and physicians. Design cannot move forward without developing a deeper understanding of all the working parts. It gives us a starting point for basic needs, and gives us more challenges to face head on. Collaboration is an integrated part of this process.

Research is significant for every design project we are a part of. Every detail counts and the question “why?” is a constant. Therefore, evidence of our end solution needs to be impactful. We want to share our process because we know how much of an investment design is. With this particular project, we discovered key findings that led us to our design solution. For example, specific colors, patterns, and changes in light can all lead to a seizure. We also discovered epilepsy patients were found to have seizures more when under stress, so introducing everyday stressors to the design was implemented by creating an environment similar to home—providing different zones such as: work, personal, and social. Evidence-based design has become the norm and with the amount of stakeholders involved on any given project, it is something we should be sensitive to.

Design is a catalyst for innovation. We crave knowledge and understanding of both our projects and clients because they are the foundation for our solutions. Design inspires us to challenge what is expected, what is typical, or has existed for years. Through research, passion, creativity, and collaboration we can provide our clients with a fresh perspective on how to approach their very own challenges and how we can work through them together. 

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Hannah Snyder is an Interior Design Intern at C2AE.