Trends in Furniture Design for Acute Care to Optimize User Experience

Traditionally, furniture design in acute care has centered around the needs of patients without too much consideration for building in features that could be useful for other stakeholders. While care for the patient should be the principal concern in the design and assembly of medical furniture, increasingly product offerings are expanding to ease the workload and physical strain on clinical staff. Enhancing the ease of cleanability, selecting materials that aid infection control, and building in functions that promote independence and empowerment, all work to streamline clinical workflows and improve the quality of care that is delivered.

Cleanability Features in Acute Care Furniture Design

Cleanability features are a key consideration in the design of acute care furniture, with infection control gaining much higher visibility across the lifespan of the COVID pandemic. The prioritization of infection control looks set to continue far into the future, as worldwide healthcare systems adjust to the challenges of endemic infectious diseases. It is no longer sufficient for medical furniture to be easily cleanable – the materials and components comprising furniture also need to play a part in infection control

The cleanability of medical furniture, such as treatment recliners, means not only the removal of dirt and stains but also effective infection control. This can be achieved by building in removable and articulated components to promote greater ease of cleaning for staff. Removable arm caps and cushions create clean-out spaces to ensure seating can be deep cleaned between uses and prevents bacteria and microbes from building up. Ideally, arm caps should be made of a single component rather than layered materials to eliminate the build-up of infectious substances between layers and ease the difficulty in cleaning out gaps and crevices.

Material Cleanability and Sustainability Features

Using the right textiles is another crucial aspect of furniture design in tackling the spread of microbes. Materials need to be durable – holding up and performing under rigorous usage. Current trends incline towards healthcare vinyl and polyurethane textiles for their durability and imperviousness to water. Furniture will be subjected to deep cleaning multiple times daily, so it is important that textiles can withstand harsh industrial cleaning products. Oncology and infusion treatment recliners, for example, may be in use for up to 18 hours a day. It is important that products are built to last without sacrificing comfortability, performance, or supportiveness.

Materials should be waterproof, leakproof, and scratch-resistant to reduce leakage of infectious substances and aid maintenance and cleaning. Encapsulating these features, the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) lays out guidelines for cleanability in healthcare furniture design: to follow best practices, furniture should make use of sealed zippers to minimize liquid penetration, employ impervious upholstered surfaces, and avoid joints and seams that create reservoirs for organisms and bacteria.

As in many industries, the impact of furniture manufacture on the environment is becoming a larger consideration. Formally more of a ‘nice-to-have,’ the sustainability of furniture materials is growing in importance. Furniture needs to be optimized for its entire lifecycle. This means considering the chemistry of materials that are built into products and their environmental impact, as well as any potential allergenic effects. Selecting components that can be efficiently disassembled and recycled or repurposed is desirable in mitigating the costs of waste generation and disposal. In pursuit of these goals, in 2017 the Durable Coated Fabrics Task Group, an interdisciplinary team of designers, textile suppliers, and furniture manufacturers, was established to publish research and recommendations on materials that have been tested in healthcare settings. 



Ergonomic Furniture Design for Acute Care Patients

Each patient’s unique dimensions mean creating a one-size-fits-all chair or recliner can be difficult. A patient’s height, weight, and strength will all work to determine their unique ergonomic makeup. As such, Health Facilities Management suggests that the best practice is to ‘design for the middle’, and provide additional customizability with supplementary features. The demographics of patients will differ according to the conditions they are being treated for, and this in turn will affect optimal furniture dimensions. Seating that is incorrectly sized can create pressure on the skin of patients, so it is important that a patient’s particular needs are accommodated – especially when building furniture for bariatric treatment. 

Designing features to aid patient ingress and egress to and from chairs improves ease of use and makes seating safer for the full spectrum of patients. Powered recline features also work to promote safe treatment of patients while seated, as well as improving comfort and giving patients independence. 

Furniture Design with Caregivers and Guests in Mind

While the furniture in acute care has traditionally been focused on the patient experience, it is important also to consider the impact on caregivers. Chairs and recliners can be designed to reduce the need for staff to bend when treating patients, reducing strain-related injury. Similarly, leaner furniture makes for greater ease of operation and movement. This results in furniture taking up less valuable space on the treatment floor and becoming safer and simpler for staff to move when transporting patients. Reinforced casters are also helpful to aid furniture movement while standing up to industrial use.

As well as patients and caregivers, consideration should also be given to guests. This can be as simple as adorning meeting spaces with brighter colors to enhance the atmosphere, or alternatively using a home-style palette on furniture to help patients and guests feel relaxed and create familiarity with the setting. Building in features that help to alleviate stress and boredom, such as USB charging ports, or massage and heating functions, gives patients and guests greater independence and helps reduce reliance on clinical staff.

Furthermore, Designing multiple uses into furniture, such as recliners or sofas that pull out into beds, makes better use of limited space while promoting intimacy between families and loved ones during long and uncomfortable treatment phases. It is important that furniture is designed for adaptability to create the most seamless and comfortable experience possible for patients and guests. Uncomfortable sleep seating is a common complaint for guests and patients, so investing extra care in creating suitable furniture helps users to remain optimistic in an uncomfortable situation. The design and deployment of furniture is important in creating a holistic treatment journey – consideration should be given to the fact that the physical environment “impacts patient stress, patient and staff safety, staff effectiveness and quality of care.”

Choosing the Right Furniture for Your Acute Care Space

Incorporating the optimal treatment furniture into your acute care space involves considering at length not only the needs of patients but their loved ones and caregivers too. For best design practices, cleanability and infection control features need to be integrated into models – but without sacrificing comfort, durability, and ease of use for staff. These factors should be considered at every stage of the design process, from the building of the framework to the selection of materials.

Here at Champion Chair, medical seating is everything we do. Our products are optimized for patient and caregiver comfort, empowerment, and independence. Get in touch today to find out more about our treatment seating products and how you can improve care quality across the entire treatment journey.