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5 elements for a healthy medical lounge

When done right, medical staff lounges are an essential part of the healthcare workplace

Healthcare lounges should take inspiration from communal spaces in the workplace, like the Fish & Richardson office in Boston.

By Samantha Gotta, Interior Designer, Healthcare (Chicago, Illinois)

What happened to the doctor’s lounge? Senior physicians often recall the lounge as the buzzing hub of the hospital where they traded news and bonded with their peers. This social interaction is important. Medical interns tell us they learn the most about their profession via the personal encounters during physician’s rounds.

Doctors-only rooms are increasingly rare today, but these anecdotes tell us how medical professionals and institutions benefit from connections made throughout the day and the necessity of collaboration and peer interaction in healthcare settings. 

If the medical care team lounge exists at all today, it’s a drab afterthought. They are windowless boxes with artificial light and limited furniture—an undesirable third place. With belt-tightening efforts in healthcare facilities, these spaces are often the first to go or be converted to other purposes. But these lounges are actually quite important. I think it’s time we took them more seriously as an essential part of the medical workplace.

Related item: Architecture & Interior Design: Shaping our communities

Taking an evidence-based design approach, our healthcare design team wanted to shed some light on the kind of spaces the medical care team needs to do its work. We surveyed, tracked, and diagrammed the spaces where doctors and hospital staff interact with others, do solo work, research, and meet with others throughout their day. We observed that the medical team members spend much of their day working outside the exam room. Often, they’re in hallways, small break rooms or semi-public spaces—this is where work happens, but it’s less than ideal and often it’s uncomfortable.

Healthcare lounges can adopt a café space with space for collaboration like the offices for Grant Thornton Chicago.

The care team lounge—more than a place to get coffee
In short, the medical care team lounge is a place where members can nurture all the important aspects of being a professional outside of an exam room. Social connection and collaboration between members, professional development, research, and communication all happen here. Contemplation and revitalization too.

Social connection is important for the healthcare team. Getting to know their coworkers personally, members feel more comfortable professionally—they come to work more inspired; they share ideas, information, and issues. These lounges promote informal information sharing that’s crucial to good organizations and doesn’t happen when the care team is siloed in private offices.

Ultimately, we’re talking about a type of workplace. Our colleagues in workplace design know that schemes like open plans can promote collaboration, break down walls between departments and roles, and allow information to be shared internally. So, ideally these hospital lounges have that buzz of inspiring, collaborative office spaces and are places where medical professionals can team up on research or stay up on the latest practices—ultimately resulting in better, more efficient care.

Related item: Healthcare: Designing for a community’s health

Practically speaking, today’s medical professionals need space where they can perform research and communications online, make private phone calls, or have one-on-one conversations. Medical shifts can be long and stress can be high, so the lounge needs to be a space where decompression and contemplation takes place too.

But these spaces should also open up as needed. The lounges can double as gathering spaces for team functions or even for lectures and events open to the public.

Now that we’ve implemented these care team lounges on several healthcare projects, we have a good idea of what makes them flourish.

Chance encounters like those at café-lounge at North Park University’s Johnson Center for Science and Community Life are important to work culture and knowledge-sharing for healthcare professionals.

Five elements that make the healthcare lounge work

  1. Give it a social, connected hospitality feel. The lounge blends access to technology with the human element. It is set-up for telecommunications and working online but with amenities like a coffee bar that foster informal social connections between team members.
  2. Ensure it has daylighting or connection to the exterior. Doctors, nurses, and interns may not get to leave the hospital during their day, so access to sunlight—even nature—is crucial and good for their well-being in general. The lounge is a place where they can decompress, concentrate, and restore. If the design can include a double-height window, the natural light takes the care team that much further away from the sterile, enclosed environments where they spend most of their day.
  3. Outfit the lounge as a place for learning. Give it furniture and flexibility so that clinicians can present new research or lecture material to each other or to the public.
  4. Introduce the idea of a care team lounge early in the design conversation. The lounge should be well integrated into the healthcare project—be it a renovation or new facility. Take a lead from universities and workplace and view the lounge as a tool for recruitment and retention.
  5. Locate it conveniently, make it visible and easy to access.

When we need them, our healthcare team works hard to take care of us, it’s time they had a place where they can take care of themselves.

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Samantha is passionate about delivering engaging, human-centered solutions. Her designs include innovative ways of integrating technology, evidence-based design, and sustainability into projects for her clients.

In hallways, small break rooms or semi-public spaces—this is where work happens, but it’s less than ideal and often it’s uncomfortable.

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