Posted on  by Stacy Lu

If a healthcare exam room looks more like a living room, would it help a patient to relax?  To communicate more freely with a clinician?

Nurture by Steelcase is testing a prototype of a new exam room at TEDMED 2013. The company developed it as an accompaniment to the Smartphone Physical, a checkup using an array of smartphone powered tech.

Nurture’s “Exam Room of the Future”

The space is designed to provide an increasingly comfortable and patient-centered experience, along with a sense of familiarity. The room includes:

An Empath chair in place of an exam table. “The goal is to have the patient in an upright, more dignified posture. This allows him or her to see eye-to-eye with a physician and and have a more balanced relationship,” says Jason Vanderground, Nurture’s Manager of Marketing Communications. “The idea was to try to get patients to take a more proactive role.  It’s not just a patient encounter.  It becomes a real conversation,” he says.

An unobtrusive Pocket computer table, so a clinical can take notes electronically while still remaining close to a patient.

large flat-screen display, part a line called Regard, that either the clinician or patient can use to share relevant data.

Three major pieces of furniture, the patient chair, pocket desk and a physician stool – all on the same level as the patient chair to facilitate communication – are on rollers so they can be easily reshuffled. The entire space is ideally as uncluttered as possible, for a calming effect, Vanderground says.


Margaret Alrutz,  Director of Strategic Marketing & Experience Design at Nurture, says the room takes cues from cultural changes at large.

“Healthcare changes as people’s experience of the world starts to change, and one area that’s driving things now is retail. For example, a consumer may think, ‘I can get movies and meals at home anytime I want, but I get to have a physical maybe once a year.  It takes a long time and it’s uncomfortable,” she says.

With the glut of on-demand consumer technology, though, including health apps like the those in the Smartphone Physical, the new expectation is, “I can participate in healthcare and not be told what to do,” Alrutz says.

However, she added, “We may not yet have the social clues to navigate this scenario. So can we take these cues that are already familiar, like sitting in an easy chair, as ways to signal how to interact?

“When a patient walks into a room and sees an easy chair and a TV screen, they may think, ‘I know how to do this,’ ” Alrutz says.