The Hospital of the Future is more like a Hotel

Lobby by EDDIE-X (the Hospital San Jose de Hermosillo)

Susie Ellis from Spafinder and Susie’s Spa Blog recently wrote about her visit to tour the brand new Methodist Stone Oak Hospital that had opened in San Antonio, Texas in Spring of 2009.  The hospital has apparently declared itself the “hospital of the future” featuring state of the art design and architecture, accompanied by a level of service that goes above and beyond what one typically finds in health care.

Here is an excerpt of what Susie experienced on the tour from her blog:

We were dropped off in a circular drive and had there been a valet to open the door and ask about luggage, I might have thought I was entering a hotel. The lobby did feel more hotel-like than hospital. There were huge ceilings with windows top to bottom. It was light, with attractive lounge areas that were tastefully and expensively appointed and straight ahead of me two concierge areas. Also, some nice art.

It is exciting to see hospitals being built following some of the principles of hotel design and service.  Traditionally, hospitals were built for function and not for comfort, and little thought was put in to how the environment might make a patient feel.  The emphasis has been on providing the necessary equipment and facilities to adequately treat the physical ailments of the patient in a hygienic way.  Unfortunately, while hygiene is important to the physical health of their patients, the cold sterile environment usually makes a visit to a hospital even less enjoyable than it needs to be.

Hotels on the other hand have a totally different design approach.  Their goal is to reach far beyond the functional aspects of providing a place for their guests to sleep.  They hope to use their designs to evoke an emotion and elicit certain feelings from their guests.  Lighting, artwork, comfortable furniture, and even fragrances help to contribute to just the right ambience that the hotel is trying to create.  Some will argue that these are all the trappings of luxury and have no place in a health care setting where the importance rests on the scientific validity and measurable outcomes of medical interventions, not on indulging clients with overstuffed furniture to make them feel at home.

But research is beginning to show us that our physical health is not independent from our mental state and mood.  Hospital environments that create anxiety may be counterproductive to the healing that takes place there.  And conversely, hospital experiences that are welcoming, inviting and put people at ease might not only convince people to get the care they need, but also make their body more receptive to the care being administered (see my article and video on “In Defense of Pampering.”)

The Methodist Stone Oak Hospital is right when they describe themselves as the “hospital of the future”.  Most new hospital developments seem to be borrowing from the spa and hotel design manuals.  And since, patients often have a choice in where they receive their care, creating facilities that make healing more enjoyable means more dollars in the hospitals’ coffers.  You can read other blogs on the subject here, here and here.  Recently, a study was done in Japan to look at how applying hotel design principles to hospital settings could improve patient experiences.

It makes sense that hospitals and hotels would have some elements in common.  The word hospital comes from the Latin “hospes” meaning “host”, the same root used in “hospitality”, “hostel” and “hotel” (from  And the similarities don’t end once the hospital is designed.  It can also translate into better customer service and a new way of taking care of patients.  Here is one more excerpt from Susie Ellis:

The hospital was impressive for many reasons but it wasn’t the physical aspects that impressed me the most. Rather, it was the kindness, caring and even lighthearted atmosphere that was created by the people who worked there. In my opinion their greatest move was to carefully select staff with exactly the qualities they wanted – flexibility, likability, caring and nurturing. This hospital had the luxury to be selective because so many people want to work there.

Stories like these hold great promise for the future of health care.  Hospitals are supposed to be centers for healing and recovery.  Today, we look forward to going to a spa or a hotel or a resort, but we dread visiting the hospital.  As a society we need more healing institutions that we can look forward to visiting, knowing that we will be well taken care of and we will leave feeling better than we did when we arrived.

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7 Responses to The Hospital of the Future is more like a Hotel

  1. Mark A McKenney August 10, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    One of the things that concerns me is that the Hospital mentioned is for people who most likely have good insurance and are wealthy. Health, healing and spa should not be only for the well insured and wealthy. I would like to see Susie and others in the spa/wellness business speak of less expensive spa and wellness alternatives. On another note, I must say that I am happy that SpaFinder has named their semi-annual spa deals to include ‘wellness’.
    Dallas, Texas

  2. Jessica Durivage August 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    I tend to agree with Mark and while I am usually a “glass is half full” girl, a past partner was an ER Doctor – and I was exposed to a different side of the “business of health..” Docs prescribing meds to anyone off the street, overworked staff, not enough beds for patients and what seemed to me as a lack or loss of compassion from the heart of the establishments.
    Now, my glass is still half full – I do believe that change must start – one person (or one hospital – or even one best practice) at a time and someone needs to lead the way.
    I just would not want us to get too far ahead of ourselves. Lets make sure decent healthcare is available to all before we start adding lavendar soaked cold towels to the waiting rooms.

  3. Marie-Josee Shaar August 10, 2010 at 1:51 pm #

    This discussion reminds me of what is happening in Canada. Being Canadian, I am used to free health care for everyone. Since I moved to the US, I heard lots of discussion about how great the Canadian system is, and how awesome it would be to have that here. On the one hand I agree, but on the other, I’m not sure. You see, the problem in Canada is that way too many people go to hospitals when they don’t really need to, often just to be reassured about things like a zit that “could be a sign of a growing skin cancer”. If health care wasn’t free, they wouldn’t use the service as much. As a result, hospitals are overly full, and people who can afford it are looking for alternative ways to get their health taken care of in a timely manner through services they have to pay for. And in the meantime, the 50% income tax rate subsidizes for unneeded services. So in essence, wealthy people are paying twice: one through income tax for others who overload the system, and once with their after-tax dollars for their own health care. Now those who don’t have the financial meals to pay for extra health care complain that Canada has a 2-speed system: one for the rich and one for the poor and fail to recognize that as long as wealthier people pay for extra services, they reduce waiting times in busy hospitals for everyone. So I’m suspecting something similar is happening here. Hotel-like hospitals may not be accessible to the poorer citizens, but as long as it doesn’t reduce the services available to them, it’s good for everyone. Not to mention, hospital workers aren’t the happiest workers, and rather than keep everyone equally unhappy, making a better environment available to some and a dream to reach to others is also an improvement.

  4. Jeremy McCarthy August 10, 2010 at 5:08 pm #

    Mark and Jessica, you both bring up an excellent point (and one I hope to write about more in the future.) I do think we need to find ways to make these things more accessible.

  5. Jeremy McCarthy August 10, 2010 at 5:12 pm #

    MarieJ, you bring up a lot of really good points. I think this is why some of the insurance companies in the U.S. (including mine) are moving to “Health Savings Accounts”. In these models the patient is responsible for spending their own health care money and so are less likely to go running into the hospital for every blemish that appears on their skin. On the other hand, this also might incentivize people to avoid seeking treatment even when they really should. It is such a complex issue and hard to find a solution that works in every scenario. A friend of mine commented on this in facebook saying, “there is more money in illness than there is in wellness.” Our focus should be on figuring out ways to make the economics drive wellness and paying doctors to keep their patients out of the hospital rather than to bring them in.


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