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Health and Medicine

Exploradio - The Rx for hospital design
Experience Design is a new field that looks at the emotional impact of an architectual space.  It's used in retail, at Disney theme parks, and now, in hospitals.
This story is part of a special series.

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
Stefan Agamanolis went from avant-garde artist in Europe to head researcher for "patient experience innovation" at Akron Children's Hospital.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
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The developers of theme parks, high-end retail, and Las Vegas casinos all know something about creating the right ‘experience’.  Now an area hospital is applying lessons from the field of ‘experience design’ to help enhance the patient experience.

In this week’s Exploradio, we meet a former multi-media artist researching  what goes into the ideal hospital stay.

Exploradio - Rx for hospital design

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Experience by design

Stefan Agamanolis says the ‘experience’ of anyone visiting Akron Children’s Hospital begins here –

“Here we are at the famous ball machine”

The enclosed kinetic sculpture maneuvers golf balls through a maze of noise making gizmos.  Agamanolis touts its therapeutic effect –

“We have patients that we bring down here just to watch the ball machine. It just gets their mind off what’s ailing them.”

Agamanolis is not a doctor, but he has a doctorate from MIT’s media lab.  Akron Children’s hired him last year as associate director of the hospital’s research center.  One of his tasks is to study what goes into an ideal ‘patient experience’.  It’s a concept borrowed from other industries.

“Retail and hospitality are way ahead of us.  If you go to Disney World, or you go into a Las Vegas go into various stores in the mall, they have all thought very deeply about the experience they want to get across to the consumer in creating a particular effect.  We have not done that as much in the health-care environment.”

In his research, Agamanolis looks at the differing needs of what he calls patient personas.

“Some of them like to go straight to an information desk and ask for information. Others don’t want to ask for information if they don’t have to and would rather have an electronic kiosk there so they can find their way on their own if they want to.”

Multi-media artist 

An Akron native, Agamanolis spent the past decade in Europe directing art projects that explore how technology can enhance human interaction.

“One of the projects we had going there was a communication device that was intended to be placed in a person’s bedroom.  We were just trying to capture that sense of closeness.”

A video from Agamanolis’s Distance Lab project in Scotland shows a couple sleeping in separate cities slowly tracing light patterns on their far-away partner’s bed using a glowing electronic ring.  It’s high-concept art, and an example of what Agamanolis calls ‘slow communication’. 

“And it challenged people to think differently about communication.  And that’s one of the things I’ve been working on for a long time  -- the idea of ‘slow communication,’ which is an extension of the ideas from the ‘slow-food movement’.”

Slow food is a reaction to the impersonal presentation (and often unhealthy ingredients ) of fast food. With slow food, attention is paid to the ‘experience’ of eating.

Slow communication, bed-side 

The benefits of slow communication is part of what Agamanolis is studying as head of Akron Children’s patient initiative.

And one of his first converts is geneticist Haynes Robinson.  

Patients who see Robinson have often been to several doctors trying to understand a troubled pregnancy. 

“By the time they get to us, they’re very nervous because they’re not sure what their doctor has found and what it’s meaning is.”

Robinson acknowledges doctors are busy. And that can be a problem when communicating a complicated diagnosis.

“If you’re delivering it under urgent circumstances where you’re running away from the patient and don’t have time to talk with the patient, that is going to have a very negative effect.”

Robinson is teaming with Agamanolis to study this crucial aspect ofbed-side manner .

“Our role is to try to slow things down so that the patient has an experience that is more comfortable and more conducive to a reasonable understanding of what’s going on.”

Agamanolis says paying attention optimizes the 3-C’s of the ideal hospital stay.

“Calm, comfort, and confidence are where it’s at, the three different emotional characteristics that I think it’s important for hospitals to operate on.   

The multi-media artist in Stefan Agamanolis envisions the hospital building itself as a healing tool.  But the investment in patient experience research is rooted in the bottom line.  An industry survey shows that ‘the experience’ tops all other factors people list when choosing a hospital.


I’m JSTC with this week’s Exploradio.    

Related Links & Resources
Akron Children's Hospital - Patient Experience research

Distance Lab - Mutsugoto project

Listener Comments:

Cool piece. Makes me want to go to the hospital!

Posted by: Lee Brooker (Kent) on September 26, 2011 8:09AM
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