Background: Although there has been little systematic assessment of how the built environment of health care facilities affects the quality of care, the built environment is a major element of structure of care--one of three facets of quality. Yet in contrast to the growing trend of using consumer perceptions of both processes and outcomes of care in QI activities, quality assessments of the structure of care do not currently rely on patient feedback. PURPOSE OF PROJECT: During the initial phase of a multiphase project, nine focus groups were conducted in 1997 to identify the salient dimensions of experience from the patient's perspective. The content of these focus groups guided the development of assessment tools in the second phase of the project, which began in February 1998.
Findings: Participants in three focus groups that were held in each of three settings--ambulatory care, acute care, and long term care--described in detail a variety of reactions to the built environment. Analysis revealed eight consistent themes in what patients and family member consumers look for in the built environment of health care. In all three settings, they want an environment, for example, that facilitates a connection to staff and caregivers, is conducive to a sense of well-being, and facilitates a connection to the outside world.
Discussion: Data derived from the focus group research has guided the development of quantitative survey and assessment tools. For each setting, patient-centered checklists and questionnaires are designed to help institutions set priorities for the improvement of facility design from the patient's perspective.