Now Boarding: Your Bed

Taking a page from airline design, a London firm thinks it can make hospitals comfier and more efficient.

DESIGNERS: Priestmangoode

Paul Priestman wants to make hospitals more like airplanes. No, he is not a sadist. Rather, Priestman, a principal at the London design studio Priestmangoode, wants to inject hospitals, and recovery rooms in particular, with a dose of efficiency—row seating and all.

OK, we know it sounds absurd. But dig a little deeper, and it starts to make a dollop of sense. Health care is tremendously wasteful. In the United States, the sector spends $700 billion a year more than it needs to, according to a recent analysis from Thomson Reuters. Yet hospitals are still, by and large, horrible places to be, and in this sense they already have plenty in common with airplanes. Priestmangoode’s idea is to elevate health-care facilities from coach to first class—and save everyone a wad of cash along the way.

The product of that thinking is the Priestmangoode Recovery Lounge, the world’s first hospital room to feel like a Virgin Atlantic suite. “Pods,” which accommodate patients after light procedures, are staggered in rows and divided by low walls. Each has its own reclining chair, magazine rack, and pullout TV, complete with pay-on-demand entertainment. It’s just a concept at this point, so the dimensions haven’t been pinned down. But based on the renderings, we’d say you’re about two feet—three feet tops—from the guy next to you.

Familiar, right? Nearly everything about the recovery lounge is conceived with a nod to the airline sector—one of Priestmangoode’s specialties. “A lot of our work has been, in effect, making private places in public spaces,” Priestman says. “We started to think that this has an interesting application in the health-care arena.” For instance, medical staff have to be able to check on patients, just like flight attendants do, and staggering the pods ensures that staff can keep an eye on their convalescents. The open plan also makes it easier for patients to flag down nurses. And of course, like cramped airplane seats, it saves a hell of a lot of money, because you can fit more beds into tighter quarters.

Priestman says that the firm has received several inquiries about the recovery lounge. One architect is even including it in a public-hospital scheme in London. Which prompts the question: Could something like this actually catch on? Maybe in Europe, where people still recover in communal wards. But in the States, where privacy’s practically a constitutional right, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy fresh from anal-fistula surgery willing to recuperate in the company of 30 others. Americans might like flying first class, but they sure don’t want to be sick in it.

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