Healthcare and wellness are complex and involve more than a mechanical application of technical skill. Wellness is about engagement. Engagement can be as simple as reading to your child or as complex as being in an adult basketball league – the key is that engagement involves others and mobility through a range of environments. It is bound to human interaction.
In contrast, illness is understood on a personal and singular level – illness is a break with everything good and positive in life. Healthcare today is, rightly or wrongly, conceptually aligned with the negative because, whether literally or representationally, it connotes something is wrong and out of the ordinary. From TV to radio to print, healthcare is presented in a light that fosters a cognitive model of apprehension if not outright dread. Wellness is the steady state, healthcare is the episode. It is inherently frightening. But the spaces in which healthcare takes place can have a remarkable impact on shifting these perceptions.
Environmental sensibilities shape cultural expectations about how every environment we interact with should be properly organized. Hospitals and clinics that are visually and contextually different from the hospital archetype are generally perceived as providing better care. But it isn’t as simple as a new coat of paint and better magazines.
This means that how we interpret space and our physical environment (both public and personal, literal and symbolic) can have an enormous impact on how an interaction and its outcomes are perceived. When patients are encouraged to interact with the space in a non-transactional way, creating new configurations collectively and dynamically, they are more inclined to interpret themselves as part of the storyline. The contextualization of these actions by location provides a deep and varied “interaction space” and sets the stage from creating a recognizable, positive shared identity.