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How Design Meets the Emerging Needs of Modern Cancer Care

Cancer care is increasingly understood today as part of a spectrum of prevention, diagnosis and treatment or disease management in the form of clinical trials and immunotherapy supported treatments, as well as chemotherapy or radiation. Patients visit cancer care facilities with a complex set of varying needs, and empathetic design can play an integral nonpharmacological support role within the cancer care complex to help mitigate the distressing aspects of the treatment and care process.

Designing for Patients

The aim of cancer care today is to treat the patient, not the cancer. By developing an understanding of who is using various spaces and how they’re using them, designers can deliver more than simply a functional environment, but rather one that offers respite and comfort. A cancer diagnosis often makes people feel as though they’ve lost control of their lives, but designers can provide a sense of empowerment for patients by creating spaces that allow them to manage some of the environmental elements like heating and cooling levels, lighting and sound.

One of the complicating elements in cancer treatment is that no two patients will respond in exactly the same way to the myriad of care interventions available. Care providers often need to tailor therapies for individuals, and designers can help in the treatment process by creating flexible environments that address the myriad needs of individual patients. Agile design can provide a variety of opportunities for patients to interact with staff and to socialize with other patients if they wish or give them the option for more privacy. For instance, if a female patient has an IV port above the breast, she may not feel comfortable opening her shirt in an open space. By integrating elements such as extendable walls and private treatment pods, designers can deliver spaces that make patients feel more comfortable, while also providing them with an opportunity to interact with others on their own terms.

Both patient and staff interviews, along with evidence-based design principles, suggest that elements such as colour, open spaces and scenic views all help to make the care process more comfortable and enjoyable for facility users. Decentralized waiting areas that allow lots of natural light and that use natural materials, rather than the traditional materials used in the past, can also improve patients’ and their loved ones’ experience of the cancer care facility.

Designing for the Cancer Care Journey

Understanding cancer care as a journey can also inform the design of a facility’s flow. One of the biggest challenges for cancer care facility design is creating spaces and systems that accommodate both the functional requirements of care providers and the needs of patients. This often means contending with conflicting priorities. Various staff, including doctors, researchers, technicians and nurses need to be able to access lab and pharmacy information efficiently, but the hustle and bustle can cause anxiety for patients and their friends. Parkin designers aim to create treatment spaces and waiting areas that offer positive distractions to patients by gearing the staff workflow and processes “behind the wall” and away from patients. This approach does not inhibit staff workflows, as these remain as essential processes for appropriate care.

Wayfinding and logical travel paths can be integrated into the overall facility design so patients and loved ones can easily understand where they need to enter, where they are going and how to get from one place to another. Designers should also consider how to streamline processes and adjacencies of different departments, so patients do not go backwards through the treatment system on the same day or during subsequent visits. For example, a patient who has finished chemotherapy should not have to enter the therapy area again when they return for follow-up appointments. Different stages of treatment should also be taken into consideration. Stage 1 and stage 4 patients may not benefit from sharing the same therapy space.

We are passionate about using design to improve the overall wellness and journey for patients, their family, friends and caregivers, while supporting the dedicated healthcare professionals. Visit our healthcare project page to learn more about our recent projects:

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