Caring for the International Patient

By Roseann Pisklak IIDA, AAHID, LEED AP and Stephanie Schwindel, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP

Cross-border healthcare travel has been on the rise for years, generating billions of dollars in revenue globally and sending millions of patients to countries around the world seeking care and, in many instances, cost savings. However, for the hundreds of thousands of those who come to U.S. medical centers for diagnosis and treatment, it is the promise of the highest quality of care delivered by world-renowned physicians that attracts them. Able to travel and willing to pay for care, they often suffer from complex illnesses that require the high-level specialist attention available in the U.S.

The importance of this market is reflected in the growing number of healthcare institutions in the US Cooperative for International Patient Programs, a membership program of the National Center for Healthcare Leadership. The organization, which was founded in 2010 with support from the International Trade Administration’s Market Development Cooperator Program, now represents nearly 60 U.S. healthcare provider organizations.

While these institutions welcome their international patients, they also recognize that these patients have special needs apart from their medical conditions. Away from their homes in a foreign environment and under stress, they need support with everything from translation to logistics to financial arrangements. The most successful programs have developed special staff and facilities to ease the way for global patients and their families.

As part of its Global Patient Services program, Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas recently opened a new facility designed to be a “home away from home” for international patient “guests.” Providing care to patients from 90 different countries each year, the Global Patient team has developed a program that provides an exceptional level of service including:

  • Dedicated patient liaisons to assist with appointment scheduling, laboratory testing, hospital registration and billing
  • Assistance with travel and lodging options, including airport assistance when needed
  • Interpretation services (full-time staff speaks Arabic, French, Italian, Mandarin, Portuguese and Spanish; arrangements can be made for interpreter services in many other languages)
  • Coordinated services and care throughout the hospital visit
  • Facilitated follow-up communication with referring doctors when appropriate

To accommodate the broad range of administrative services, as well as the social and cultural needs and expectations of the international clientele, Houston Methodist renovated a suite in the Scurlock Tower on the Texas Medical Center campus in Houston.

The mandate for the design team was to create a comfortable, safe environment that supports the Global Patient Services’ first priority: to relieve the stress of traveling from another country for healthcare, so the patient can focus on healing.

The program for the space included both administrative areas and a patient lounge—two very different environments designed to serve separate needs. Work areas include executive offices and open office work area conference and huddle rooms, staff break rooms along with several common spaces for spontaneous teaming and collaboration. The contemporary space is a bustling, behind-the-scenes business center environment with exterior views and natural lighting, and multiple options for coming together as the team guides patients through their medical care experience.

In the reception lobby and waiting space, the design reinforces the “best quality of customized care” message in an understated, elegant space with custom furniture and upholstered seating, detailed marble floors, wood paneling and indirect lighting. Artwork includes many gifts from the families of grateful former patients. In respect for cultural differences, adjacent to the lobby there is also a separate sub-waiting room offering greater privacy for women patients and female family members.

The Global Patient Services team finds that the newly designed space has helped them improve their business in a number of ways. As Houston Methodist Global Health Care Services, President and CEO Cathy Easter says, “First and foremost are the benefits to our patients and their families, who enjoy a beautifully appointed, culturally sensitive lounge. By centralizing our services in a single suite, our patients can think of this single lounge as their “home base” – with access to our registration, financial coordination, translation and liaison teams. The well-designed transitions from “on-stage” to “off-stage” areas allow our employees both privacy to conduct their business and quick access to our patients. Finally, by having room for all of our teams to interact in a shared work environment, we’ve increased our operational efficiencies.”

It is a definition of patient care that needs no translation.

Photos courtesy of © Aker Imaging, Houston.

Author: Roseann Pisklak IIDA, AAHID, LEED AP and Stephanie Schwindel, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP
Roseann Pisklak, IIDA, AAHID, LEED AP, is a principal with WHR and head of the Healthcare Interior Design Studio. Pisklak is a founding member of the American Association of Healthcare Interior Designers. Stephanie Schwindel, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP is a medical planner with WHR focused on creating healing environments and collaborative design methods. Schwindel is also the Tradewell Fellowship Curator.

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Posted January 13, 2016

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