Hospitals as Cities

Posted on October 31, 2010


It does not take a lot of imagination to see similarities between hospitals and cities. The analogy has been made before.

Despite the positives of cities, the comparison with hospitals and cities is pejorative. Studies show cities invoke stress in people.  Newcomers are intimidated; visitors feel threatened.

Likewise, hospitals can create the same emotional reactions unfortunately—and most do. I find similarities to hospitals in the most unlikely places. For instance, there are multiple instances in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back where Rebel forces are trying to escape an Empire stronghold. Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca and company are in some sterile maze of non-descript corridors and I find myself thinking:  isn’t that the corridor outside imaging at Blanksburg General?

It is sad when we recognize some specific space negatively depicted in public or in media that is unflattering to an actual place we know and occupy. Your local hospital should not remind you of an evil opponent’s lair, even if it is Hollywood.

Hospitals are cities, for all the good and bad that connotes. Yes, cities can intimidate, disorient and overwhelm, but they can also enrich, educate and enliven.

We must see healthcare environments as foreigners would, and imagine how a visitor would navigate our city. Is it easy to orient yourself? Would scale, color, signage, or natural light help?  Do you feel safe? Would a circulation study, close parking or pedestrian-scale design help?

Just as no one building makes a city, no one action makes a hospital. It takes planned, focused, incremental change with a strategy to make the collective successful. Let us remember this as we tackle concerns which seem indominable right now. Attack at a scale which is managable to affect change, one brick in one building, in one street in one neighborhood.