Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts


Interior Design

First Advisor

Kristin Carleton


MOTIVATION Despite the immense focus on patient-centered care over the past two decades, a lack of knowledge exists regarding how to apply these guidelines to women, which contributes to gender disparities in healthcare (Filler et al, 2020). For example, one in eight American women will have breast cancer in her lifetime, yet one third do not complete regular screenings (NCI, 2020), perhaps because mammograms and gynecological exams often cause significant anxiety and fear in women. Decreased engagement with providers, coupled with disjointed healthcare, leaves women in a vulnerable position. ISSUE There is ample evidence that well-designed spaces can help patients heal, yet research suggests that the majority of healthcare centers do not follow these evidence-based principles because they are designed instead for staff efficiency (Murphy, 2016; Weisul, 2021). Healing hinges on The Health Triangle, which considers physical, mental, and social health equally important in wellness. Highly coordinated, multidisciplinary, team-based care is necessary to meet these aims and designers must understand how to support this variety of disciplines and activities in their programming. Mental health may be one of the most imperative services to incorporate, with anxiety and mood disorders constituting a significant threat to women’s health. Research shows that women are four times more likely to follow-up with mental health recommendations if services are offered at the same clinic (Lomonaco-Haycraft et al., 2019). This research will explore if designers have the tools they need to advocate for patient-centered care for women (PCCW) and the design of holistic, healing environments that women actually want to visit. METHODS A comprehensive literature review has been conducted to determine which environmental factors impact women’s engagement with their healthcare center. Research included precedent studies of clinics that specialize in women’s health and fertility, chiefly innovative clinics that purport to be strongly focused on PCCW and include evidence-based design as a key component to achieving their goals. Interviews with clinic designers and users were completed to appraise which elements are paramount. Design strategies to promote PCCW, including reduction of fear and anxiety, were researched and provide value in discerning strategies that can help create a healing environment specific to women. RESULTS Although studies of healthcare design specific to women are limited, the literature is growing. There is ample evidence that the environment impacts multiple aspects of patient care and satisfaction, providing designers with a unique opportunity to deliver innovative environments that promote wellbeing and active health (Locatelli et al., 2015). Designers must recognize that women often have significant fear and anxiety surrounding exams and take care to utilize strategies that can mitigate these emotions while garnering a sense of compassion and support. The waiting experience deserves special attention because it provides patients with their first impression of the clinic and, unfortunately, may be where they spend the majority of their time. Waiting is also more distressing for females than males (Catania et al., 2011). Alternatives such as a paging system and use of common areas to promote patient control and independence should be considered. Biophilic and salutogenic design principles should be incorporated to harness the power of nature in promoting active health and wellness. Avoiding an “institutional” feel and creating a positive “home-like” atmosphere through materials, scale, and intimacy is critical, as is empowering women by giving them a sense of control over their environment. Finally, care should be provided in a safe, women friendly environment with strong continuity of care from an interdisciplinary team (Peters, 2010). CONCLUSIONS To promote optimal health and wellness, women should have access to a holistic healthcare center they perceive as non-intimidating. This research will help interior designers better understand how to advocate for PCCW and encourage engagement with the clinics they design. An important opportunity exists for designers to ensure they are not inadvertently creating more barriers for women while employing strategies to reduce fear and anxiety. Furthermore, the built environment must consider the health of both patients and their providers to meet desired outcomes. By considering all five senses, design can help foster connections within this community to truly place women back in the center of their own care.


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