GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.- Steelcase Health, a leading provider of healthcare spaces that deliver greater connection, empathy and wellbeing, announced today the findings of new research on exam spaces. The findings revealed a significant gap between the needs of doctors, patients and family members and the design of most exam spaces. This gap significantly affects the relationship between doctors, patients and family members.
Given increasing amounts of health information, patients today need to develop a collaborative relationship of trust and understanding when they see their doctor, while physicians need to be consultative, expert guides. Increasingly, doctors, patients and families desire to work together in partnership, sorting through preventative and treatment options, and establishing trusting relationships. Yet, the addition of computers for EMR and record keeping requirements in the exam room can create communication and collaboration barriers that inhibit these relationships.
“Our observations and interviews revealed that most exam rooms were not designed for the doctor-patient-family-computer interaction. They were designed for the physician to perform physical exams, minimal charting or typing on a computer and to support the presence, but not inclusion of the family,” said Caroline Kelly, Principal Researcher, Steelcase WorkSpace Futures.
“The collaboration between a patient, his or her family and the doctor greatly impacts the patient’s health and outcomes; that collaboration is built by establishing trust, sharing information and making decisions together. Right now, exam rooms do not enable that relationship. It is time to rethink the exam room experience.”
Steelcase Health research revealed five specific ways the exam room is failing doctors, patients and family members today:
Lack of eye-to-eye communication: Large, bulky computers and static furniture is often a barrier to being able to look a patient in the eyes.
Traditional postures reinforce hierarchy: Traditional exam room settings place doctors standing over patients or sitting below them, placing both parties in awkward positions. Ultimately, this discourages behaviors that support the partnership between them.
Technology becomes a barrier: Computers are often positioned for the doctor to view the screen and can create a physical barrier or distance between doctors and their patients. Patients and their families have poor access to information that impacts their understanding and decision making.
Slow and awkward transitions: Static computers and immobile furnishings hinder the physician’s ability to transition quickly between consultation, inputting data, sharing information, ordering labs or prescriptions and performing a physical exam. This can disrupt their workflow and affect their overall efficiency.
Little ergonomic support: Doctors are forced to stand at carts with computers to chart or sit on small stools and lean against a wall or cabinetry to talk to a patient, all negatively impacting their physical comfort.
To solve for these needs, Steelcase Health research reveals the exam room needs to be designed for mutual participation, a partnership between the physician, patient and family. Specifically, Steelcase Health identified a new design framework which considers:
Reciprocal relationships supported by eye-to-eye contact
Egalitarian presence supported by the ability to bring others into the conversation and incorporate the right technology and tools when needed
Collaboration and shared decision making, supported by access for all parties to share and view information
“What’s needed today is an environment that supports discussion, and teaching and learning, all characteristics conducive to partnership and patient engagement,” shared Michelle Ossmann, MSN, PhD, Director of Healthcare Environments for Steelcase Health. “And when all participating parties are sharing in the care process, patients are more engaged and tend to better manage their own health, which ultimately leads to healthier people.”
As a result of this research and findings, Steelcase Health is introducing Node® with ShareSurface, a clinician chair exclusively designed to support a more participatory experience in the exam room. A swivel-seated chair enables clear, eye-to-eye sight lines between patient and physician when using mobile technology such as laptops or tablets and a built-in, movable arm with a surface that swivels 360 degrees. This allows doctors to input data about the patient during the visit and share information on the screen with patients and families while maintaining a connection with them. All together, these functionalities lend to the ability of Node® with ShareSurface to provide a dramatically enhanced interaction between physicians, patients and family members.
Additional product features include a seat design that offers physicians easy access to talk with and examine patients, wheels that lend mobility for quick, seamless transitions between configurations and flexible back support with simple adjustments to keep physicians comfortable in a variety of postures.
“Today’s exam rooms are crippling physicians’ ability to develop relationships of mutual trust and understanding with patients,” said Dr. Karen Betten M.D., owner of a private Ideal Medical Practice (IMP) and one of the physicians studied in the research for the design of the Steelcase Health clinician chair. “These spaces must allow for eye-to-eye contact, information sharing and quick transitions for everyone involved in care delivery – physicians, patients and families.”
About the Research:
This qualitative research study was conducted during 2014-2015 at healthcare organizations across the U.S. It included observation, interviews and behavioral prototyping with over 60 physicians, nurses and healthcare experts. This study is part of ongoing research to uncover new ways to make the exam experience better for doctors, patients and their family members.
About Steelcase Health
Steelcase Health studies the places that support health, and then delivers insights, applications and solutions to create moments that can lead to change – moments that support wellbeing, empathy and connection between clinicians, patients and families. The group leverages a comprehensive portfolio of healthcare applications, furnishings, products and services designed to support more connected care. For more information on Steelcase Health, please visit
About Steelcase Inc.
For over 100 years, Steelcase Inc. has helped create great experiences for the world's leading organizations, across industries. We demonstrate this through our family of brands – including Steelcase®, Coalesse®, Designtex®, PolyVision® and Turnstone®. Together, they offer a comprehensive portfolio of architecture, furniture and technology products and services designed to unlock human promise and support social, economic and environmental sustainability. We are globally accessible through a network of channels, including over 800 dealer locations. Steelcase is a global, industry-leading and publicly traded company with fiscal 2016 revenue of $3.1 billion.

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