What’s The Future Of Emergency Department Design?

Efficiencies in medical technology and care have been evolving at a lightning fast rate. However, changes to the architecture and design of emergency departments have been slower to evolve.

With an aging population and growing need for emergency care, it’s time that emergency medicine groups evaluate how design characteristics can help efficiency and flow. Moreover, improved care environments may translate to an increased revenue pipeline, making the implementation all the more important.

The below are some ways ED’s can look to the future of emergency department design in terms of architectural updates as well as design traits that are simply process-driven.

The Shortcomings Of Traditional Emergency Department Design

Today’s consumers compare the emergency department experience to that of a retail shopping experience. Any negative experiences have an impact on the brand of the hospital significantly lower patient satisfaction scores.  This can lead to the possibility that they choose another ED the next time around or tell their peers not to visit.

This is why it is so important to evaluate the common shortcomings of ED design and determine if you can update them.

Start With Signage

What’s The Future Of Emergency Department Design?

Consider that ED patients — or their family members — are in a panicked, often stressed level when driving to the hospital. As these campuses tend to be quite large and many dated hospitals have the ED situated towards the back of the main portion of the building, your signage can play an important part in alleviating the first experience of the ED.

Capture the attention of your incoming ED patients with eye-catching lighting, landscaping, and paint that provides a distinctive path to the ER.

Ensure that any intersection on the way to the ER has effective signage and direction cues to account for even the least observant individual.

Continue The Warm Experience With A Welcoming Desk

Once patients arrive, a welcome desk can be the next path to keeping their stress at bay. This first-encounter portal, staffed by nurses, mid-levels, and doctors, can make quick decisions about a patient’s necessary treatment path.

Many dated ED designs place patients in a queue, making them feel as if they are unimportant or that if they don’t come in via ambulance, their level of care is downplayed. This type of design adds to the stress and anxiety of patients and their family members.

Related to the welcome desk are ongoing measures to keep families of patients relaxed. “When we had them, non-clinical ‘patient liaisons’ were a good idea” says longtime ED physician Dr. Stephen Knight. “The patients loved them. We had one woman who did magic tricks for the kids and helped the nurses find refreshments for patients and families. She was empowered to discuss the long times between testing, results, decisions and disposition. It freed the nurses to focus on the clinical needs.”

Waiting Room Models Are Antiquated

What’s The Future Of Emergency Department Design?

Hospital waiting rooms are often associated with being cold and institutional, adding to the health concerns of patients instead of making attempts to control their emotions.

Instead of the traditional lines of chairs, consider a variety of seating and layout options including:

  • Circular tables and chairs
  • Small groups of furniture
  • Varying ceiling heights to break up the scale of the room
  • Varying lighting effects that may cater to the moods of different patients (for example, older patients tend to be more sensitive to light and sound)

Dr. Knight expands on his experience and says “Hospitals don’t invest as heavily on environmental services and the aging, physical plant often begins to look shabby and tired. Easy-to-maintain surfaces and materials make the around-the-clock maintenance more likely to occur with the limited staffing that is often provided.”

Poorly Designed Paths Within The Hospital Halls

What’s The Future Of Emergency Department Design?

According to a post-occupancy evaluation (POE) conducted by GBBN Architects, it was found that clinical staff repeatedly became distracted from patient care due to the need to provide directions.

Something as simple as colored walk paths can eliminate these unnecessary distractions. Distinct color patterns or lighting can also be considered in art, lighting, paint, or ceiling elements so long as they showcase a consistency that helps provide patients — and staff — familiarity around large buildings.

Design Strategies That Relate To Emergency Department Revenue

In addition to the above architecture-centric design ideas, there are also some effective care model design considerations that can help to feed your revenue pipeline.

Considering that the ED is the portal for managing population health, design resources can be put in place to help with the management of care.


A work area dedicated to nurse and telemedicine triage will allow patients a direct line to healthcare professionals who can consult on whether or not ED visits are necessary. This area may also be beneficial for internal clinical discussions in preparation for incoming patients.


Duplicated tests are often the result of poor communication. A dedicated space for in-care strategies allows clinical teams to coordinate treatment and share vital information.


Patient compliance with medical directives is often the key to preventing additional visits to the ER. This is especially true for the elderly, a population growing in size every year.

Discharge processes can include a space for case managers, social workers, and referral specialists, all working towards helping patients stay within the guidelines of their health plan. These spaces should be centrally located near the exit of treatment areas and provide enough space for patients and their families to meet.

Additional Emergency Department Design Trends To Consider

The goal of any ED design updates should be to account for increased patient volume while simultaneously improving patient care.

The central element of these trends seems to always point back to the involvement of the patient, their families, and clinical staff. When the patient is put first, the rest of the design elements seem to follow suit.

These design trends may include:

  • Self-triage: Electronics, like tablets, employed to allow patients to answer basic questions about their complaint to expedite care.
  • Flexible rooms: An ED room that accommodates the needs of a variety of patients rather than a specific patient or population.
  • Waiting areas: For patients who have been treated but are yet to be discharged, dedicated waiting areas that free up beds are becoming a new norm. These areas can be monitored by nurses to ensure the population is under supervision.
  • Fast track areas: Nurse practitioners can manage about 90% of fast track patients, allowing ED physicians to spend more time with more needy patients.
  • Embedded imaging: A radiography room within the ED.

The Future Of Design Is Now

As healthcare evolves so does the need to update the way patients and staff navigate it. New facilities are being built from the ground up and older ones are being renovated to account for the changes and demands for better care.

What changes will your ED make to help with patient flow and care?

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