Connecting to Nature: The Psychology of a Great Small Medical Office Design

Historically, medical offices have not been wonders of architecture. We all know the feeling of walking into a drab, dimly lit office with decades-old burgundy carpet and chairs surrounded by sterile, white walls. And, as a patient, that does something to you. It somehow reinforces that medical offices are an unpleasant place to be. This type of medical environment can feel quite can feel cold and impersonal to patients, which is why experts are now studying the psychology behind what makes a great small medical office design.

While there has been plenty of research on designing hospitals with more style and comfort in mind, small medical office design has only recently truly become a topic of conversation. And, in fact, much of the research conducted on hospital design is now being used to inform how small medical offices approach facility design.

In an interview for WNPR, Connecticut College psychology professor Ann Delvin stated, “The quality of care is paramount, but I think what health care providers often fail to understand is that the first impressions that we have of doctors often set the stage for the kind of relationship that will ensue.”

With that in mind, how do we address the psychology of winning small medical office design?

Take a Cue from Nature

A widely-cited study from the journal in 1984 showed that among patients recovering from gallbladder surgery, those who stayed in a room where they could see trees had shorter stays in the hospital and took fewer painkillers compared to patients who had a view of a brick wall. Research shows that connecting patients to nature-inspired surroundings works as a “positive distraction” and helps to keep patients feeling more positive, upbeat and motivated.

Architects have long been inspired by nature, incorporating wood, stone and natural color palettes that blend with the natural world and create a sense of peace and calmness.

In an article published by the American Psychological Association (APA), one such medical office is touted as an example of a great small medical office design, inspired by nature.

The article states:

“As clients enter the Portland, Oregon, office of psychologist Thomas Joseph Doherty, PsyD, they are greeted by the majestic sight of Mt. Hood out an east-facing window, a profusion of healthy green plants, comfortable, supportive chairs and nature-based artwork. Diplomas hang in a corner to advertise Doherty’s expertise, and his clean, clutter-free desk adds to the feeling of openness and space…

Doherty’s space is a good example of today’s direction in health-care design, which uses research on human behavior and design principles to promote positive interactions between therapists and clients.

So, given such psychological insights, how should practitioners and contractors design a nature-inspired small medical office from the ground up—or remodel a space that needs an overhaul?

The research noted on the APA website suggests the following:

Fill it with light, calming color. The color of the office walls sets a certain tone, feeling and mood. Wall colors in light, soothing colors like sage green or dusty blue promote a sense of calm and relaxation, according to environmental designers.

Wood is good. Many people tend to prefer natural-colored woodgrain as opposed to chrome, glass or manmade options. Perhaps this reaction to wood stems from nature’s calming effect on our moods and emotions. Research suggests keeping the wood ratio to under 45% of the total room surfaces. Floors, walls, desks and tables are all great places to showcase beautiful wood elements.

Bring in the sunlight. Natural light is a huge mood booster, so incorporating windows or skylights into your small medical office design can do wonders. Windows should focus on natural, calming views rather than busy parking lots. You can also use indoor lamps with bulbs that mimic sunlight, rather than overhead fluorescent lighting, to create a more cozy, warm and positive feeling in the space.

Breathe life into the space. Bringing in beautiful green plants gives a healing and tranquil energy to a medical office and breathes life into the environment. Just be sure to keep them looking healthy and happy!

Select calming artwork. Art that features elements of natural landscapes, plants, flowers and trees can foster calmness and relaxation for potentially nervous patients.

Declutter the office. Maintaining a clean, clutter-free office space goes a long way toward promoting feelings of peace and relaxation. Organize the desks in a way that hides clutter and creates an efficient workflow.

Hire a professional that gets it. Here at Norwest Contractors in Portland, Oregon, we know great small medical office design—and we begin with a plan and a partnership, not a pitch. Norwest won’t just throw you an uninformed bid. We evaluate the whole of your project, first assessing the site for readiness and “surprises”. We call that Know Your Building. That gives you leverage in your lease negotiations and saves you construction dollars down the road. In construction, “surprises” are never good, just code for costly overruns. So why wait for them to find you? Knowing Your Building before you start gives you the options to manage your project and budget, not the other way around. Now that’s Smart.

And The Norwest DesignLab™ is the only place on the West Coast where healthcare and business professionals, designers and architects can see, feel and touch the wide range of commercial interior materials and fixtures available for your project. Contact us today for a consult.