Exam rooms today require a new type of experience — one that builds on doctor-patient-family member collaboration.

Physician-Patient Relationships

The exam room can support or prevent relationships of trust and understanding between doctors and patients from developing. Yet today’s exam rooms are designed for an old model of healthcare.

Steelcase Health research recently revealed five ways the exam room is failing doctors, patients, and family members; as a result introduces Node with ShareSurface, a clinician chair designed for partnership.

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Application Ideas

Multipurpose Exam
Retail Exam
Corporate Wellness

Multipurpose Exam

Multipurpose Exam

The Multi-Purpose Exam room creates a relaxing environment that supports learning.

  • The Steelcase diamond design principle is applied for democratic access to information and others in the room
  • A monitor provides easy, equal visibility of information
  • Seating for family members supports active participation in the conversation
  • Whiteboards help capture questions, next steps or quick drawings
  • Exam area is zoned so clinicians can easily arrange and use their equipment and tools

Retail Exam

Retail Exam

Retail Healthcare Exam Spaces are a one-stop shop for patients. These spaces are typically located in or near a pharmacy.

  • Recliners are used instead of exam tables so patients and care team members can be eye-to-eye, enhancing communication and mutual participation
  • Node with ShareSurface can be used for information exchange with patients and moved aside to perform a physical exam, improving the experience for clinicians, patients and their family.
  • Guest chair and table supports family members and personal belongings

Corporate Wellness

Corporate Wellness

Corporate wellness spaces reduce time away from the office and support an organization’s commitment to employee wellness.

  • Provide separate spaces for the medical exam and consultations
  • Recliners replace exam table to support both clinician and employee participation and eye-to-eye communication
  • Designed to remove barriers between patients and clinicians, Node with ShareSurface nurtures human connection, essential for consultative care.
  • Intentional placement of the table and monitors in the consultation area support mutual participation and democratic access to information
  • Regard hooks provide a place to hang belongings

Research + Insights

Two-Way Learning
Support People
Efficiency + Relationships
Technology Integration



What We Observed

  • Inefficient, unwieldy floor plans
  • No storage for patient’s clothing and personal items
  • Inadequate accommodation for family members
  • Poor support/sightlines for sharing digital information
  • Awkward postures due to lack of same-level seating for patients, families and clinicians

What We Heard

“My husband wants me with him when he sees his doctor, and I want to be there to make sure he reports all his symptoms and we both understand what’s what. But the exam room is very crowded. I always feel like I’m getting in the way.” – Family

“The way I see it, my health belongs to me. So I use a health app and do a lot of research online. But during my doctor appointments, I usually end up just answering a few questions and mostly listening. It’s not really set up to be a two-way conversation.” – Patient

“We need to interact with patients in a setting more conducive to consultation. Only a small portion of a clinical visit today involves a physical exam. Traditional exam rooms, however, are dominated by the tools needed for that activity.” – Provider

Two-Way Learning

Two-Way Learning

Two-Way Learning is Essential for Effective Healthcare¹

  • The care team and patients and families all play important roles—engaging in dialogue about health history, symptoms, goals and preferences can yield invaluable insights, even helping to prevent medical errors.²
  • And when patients participate in developing the action plan and understand it, they tend to be more engaged in their care.
  • Because patients all have different learning styles and literacy and acuity levels, effective exam rooms leverage multiple ways of presenting information. Increasingly, shared learning may include viewing digital information from the patient’s as well as the care team’s mobile devices.

1 Ahren, D., Woods, S., Lightowler, M., Finley, S., & Houston, T. (2011). Promise of and potential for patient-facing technologies to enable meaningful use. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 40(5, Supplement 2), S162-S172.

Support People

Support People

Family or other support persons in the exam room are important partners in the patient’s health.4 Accommodating their presence—whether it’s physical or virtual via videoconferencing—helps ensure that important information is shared, understood and factored into decisions about care.

4 Frampton, S., Wahl, C., & Cappiello, G. (2010). Putting patients first—partnering with patients’ families. American Journal of Nursing, 110(7), 53-56.

Efficiency + Relationships

Efficiency + Relationships

Maintaining personal relationships between patients and staff is vital for satisfaction. Even as payers alter reimbursement systems, efficiency remains an important measure of healthcare effectiveness. The stress of trying to maintain meaningful, thorough patient visits while rushing through appointments can negatively impact physician’s work lives and patient outcomes and satisfaction.3

Efficient, well-equipped spaces that simultaneously support the patient and family interaction with care team members can support efforts to improve patient satisfaction and ease staff burnout.

3 Bodenheimer, T., & Sinsky, C. (2014). From triple to quadruple air: Care of the patient requires care of the provider. Annals of Family Medicine, 12(6), 573-576.

Technology Integration

Technology Integration

Seamlessly Incorporated

To be effective versus intrusive, technology must be seamlessly incorporated and carefully managed in exam rooms.5 Mobile devices, apps and web-based information are new tools for diagnosis and treatment, accessing and sharing information, and communicating effectively. However, if exam rooms aren’t well-designed for technology use, it can be more harmful than helpful, detracting from conversations and distancing participants from each other.6 In contrast, when everyone can easily and equally view and share digital information, it has the potential to boost collaboration and shared decision-making.

5 Almquist, J., Kelly, C., Bromberg, J., Bryant, S., Christianson, T., & Montori, V. (2009). Consultation room design and the clinical encounter: The space and interaction randomized trial. Healthcare Environments Research and Design Journal, 3(1), 41-78.

Design Principles

Design Exam Rooms For Multiple Activities

  1. Wherever appropriate, replace exam tables with recliners so that patients and care team members can be eye-to-eye, enhancing communication.
  2. Provide adequate space and comfortable seating so that family members can feel welcomed and be included in the exam.
  3. Create a collaboration zone with same-level seating and equal access to digital and analog information.
  4. Provide compact surfaces for patient and family members’ notepads and pens, mobile technologies, and/or personal items.
  5. Support videoconferencing with specialists or family members who can’t be physically present.
  6. Include a work setting for scribes and other participants in the healthcare team.

Optimize Spatial Efficiency + Hygiene

  1. Zone the exam area so clinicians can easily arrange and use their equipment and tools.
  2. Choose storage that minimizes visual clutter while keeping frequently used items in easy reach.
  3. Leverage vertical planes for information displays and technology hosting.
  4. Place handwashing opportunities in direct visual relationship with the exam room entrance(s).
  5. Select surfaces and furnishings that can be quickly and easily cleaned between patients.
  6. Build in flexibility with demountable walls and modular furniture to support evolving technology.

Provide For Participants’ Emotional Needs + Comfort.

  1. Include storage for patients’ clothing and personal items.
  2. Ease transition times with positive distractions by providing monitors for viewing.
  3. Provide visible access to basic hospitality items for patients and family members: power, tissues, etc.
  4. Select mobile seating for the care team so they can fluidly move close to patients and family for meaningful conversations.
  5. Preserve information privacy with acoustic integrity.

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Additional Resources

Insights + Applications Guide

Healthcare is evolving at a rapid pace and changing on almost every front. As changing dynamics add complexity to an already complex industry, the challenges that healthcare organizations face are greater than ever. Addressing high-priority issues is key to developing a strategy for sustainable success. Our seminal Healthcare: Time for Change Insights + Applications Guide combines insights and practical solutions yielded from 18 studies and 15,000 hours of research.

View Guide

360 Magazine: Healthcare Special Edition

This Healthcare Edition of 360 is a compilation of 360 stories that explore the healthcare industry and the spaces where healthcare experiences occur. The stories demonstrate how space can be used to humanize the health experience in waiting rooms, exam rooms, patient rooms, clinician spaces and infusion therapy environments to create places that deliver greater connection, empathy and wellbeing for everyone involved.

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Steelcase Health

Healthcare is experiencing rapid change that can often feel overwhelming. At Steelcase Health, we look for the changes that are possible. We study the places that support health and then deliver insights, applications and solutions designed to create moments that can lead to change. Moments that enhance the wellbeingempathy and connection of clinicians, patients and families.

Learn more about Steelcase Health