Perspectives October 23, 2019

Behavioral Healthcare Forecast: 11 Design Trends to Expect

What does the future hold for behavioral healthcare design? We asked our team of experts to weigh in on what the next five to 10 years will bring to patients and providers.

1. Reducing Stigma: Behavioral healthcare centers will take a stronger, more proactive role in transforming the way society views mental health treatment. Integration with the community, public education and awareness, post-treatment patient support networks, and the implementation of “telemedicine” systems (whereby health services are delivered via electronics and telecommunications platforms) will reduce the stigma associated with mental health patients and their treatment.

2. Calming Emergency Departments: The same warm, open, light-filled designs we see in behavioral health centers will be incorporated into emergency departments to create a more inclusive, accepting environment that allows patients to feel safe. Open team stations will replace those surrounded by windows. Distraction walls—designed to calm patients by taking their minds off the fact that they are in a clinical setting—will be incorporated.

3. Adaptable Treatment Rooms: Emergency department treatment rooms will be designed to flex to respond to cases on a sliding scale of emergency severity. Headwalls with rotating panels that lock into place will allow for multiple variations of treatment that are customizable to the patient’s needs. For example, one side of the panel might display a custom-printed image of a natural landscape, thereby serving as a distraction wall; the other side of the panel would house clinical tools, including medical gasses, pumps, power, and monitoring. By designing treatment rooms that adapt to serve patients with medical health needs, behavioral health needs, or both, an increased number of patients will be accommodated more efficiently.

Treatment room
Adaptable Treatment Rooms

4. Hospitality-Inspired Design: Behavioral healthcare facilities will adopt design cues from the hospitality industry, providing dignity to patients through openness, transparency, and uplifting spaces. Designs will also encourage human interaction.

5. Community-Building: Behavioral healthcare facilities will adopt a design approach that parallels the physical organization of real-world communities. Various care units will be clustered together to form “neighborhoods” around shared, public “parks” and “town squares.” This will create a sense of community and engagement for inpatients and outpatients, and mitigate individual feelings of isolation.

6. Neighborhood Integration: In urban medical systems, there will be a shift away from a centralized point-of-care model and a move toward a decentralized, neighborhood clinic model. Small, easy-to-access storefronts nestled among other downtown “Main Street” amenities will reduce barriers to care by making the facilities more approachable and mainstream. A welcoming front door that blends in with other storefront entrances will welcome some patients without much ado, while an emergency zone at the back will facilitate other transfers to protect dignity and patient privacy.

7. Prioritization of Staff Well-Being: Behavioral health facilities will prioritize their staff’s mental and emotional well-being, as well as their physical safety. Providing staff amenities like access to nature and daylight, areas of respite off-stage, and areas for collaboration will support their holistic health, enabling them to provide better care for patients and reduce their risk of burnout.

8. Lights, Temperature, Sound: More scientific studies into the effects of light levels, light temperature, and sound patterns on patient stress levels and patient outcomes in behavioral healthcare settings will be conducted. Project teams will therefore need to perform a careful review of all available data to ensure patient and staff safety standards are being met while the most therapeutic healing environment is being provided. Access to views of nature and natural light from patient living areas will be prioritized, as will physical access to safe, convalescent outdoor environments.

9. Closed-Loop Care: The behavioral health facility of the future will focus on ways that patient care can be followed through to reduce recurrent hospital visits for patients. The end goal will be recovery and reintegration, and programs outside the walls of the hospital will be extremely important partners.

Cherry Hospital
Physical access to safe, convalescent outdoor environments will be provided.
Natural light and access to views to the outdoors will be prioritized.

10. Design for Rehabilitation: Demand for substance abuse and rehabilitation programs, particularly for previously incarcerated populations, will increase. Designers will need to innovate strategies that ensure the effective treatment of opioid addiction in a humane environment.

11. Considerations for Veterans and the Homeless: In the U.S., veteran and homeless populations are disproportionately affected by behavioral health challenges. Designers will need to create programmatically innovative buildings that meet these populations’ unique social, physical, and mental health needs. Possible explorations include combining behavioral health facilities with transitional housing, safe housing, community centers, jobs training/skills development programs, and food pantries. Nurseries and childcare spaces will become embedded within inpatient behavioral health facilities so that parents, specifically single mothers, have resources for their children.