Designing an IVF clinic that meets patient expectations

According to the dictionary, a spa is where mineral-rich spring water or seawater is used to give medicinal baths. Spas have operated since ancient times, but the modern spa started in Bath in the UK in the 18th Century. This combined medical treatment with leisure, physical pampering and social activities .

At that time, it became fashionable to revive the Roman custom of bathing. Crowds of well-heeled Londoners began to flock to the city with its old Roman baths and mineral water spring. They enjoyed weekends away to take to the waters.

This came to the notice of a certain Richard (Beau) Nash, a sort of promoter and influencer in those days. He was known for being an arbiter of good taste and manners. He was the Pewdie Pie of his generation, but also had talents in terms town planning and architecture. With the help financiers and architects, he transformed Bath from a parochial spa city into the social capital of England.

Once Nash had transformed it, the wealthy and famous arrived in Bath in droves on a seasonal basis to bathe in and drink the water. And to cater for them, social activities included dances, concerts, playing cards, lectures, and promenading down the street.

Spa towns in Europe soon followed suit, with Bath setting the tone for other spas in Europe to follow. And by the middle of the 19th Century, the Europeans had taken the idea of the spa to a new level. They offered numerous accumulated traditions for bathing, taking the waters and other aspects of health such as diet and exercise.

The first medical tourists

By the latter half of the 19th Century authors began writing guidebooks to the health resorts of Europe. They explained the medical benefits and social amenities of each. Rich Europeans and Americans, the first medical tourists, then travelled to these resorts to take in cultural activities.

During the 20th Century the spa towns continued to develop. In Europe taking a cure is still common for people with long term ailments. In Germany, for instance, such cures constitute part of the state medical insurance schemes. Insurers pick up the cost and employers cover salaries for time taken by employees to undergo treatment.

The spas set the scene and IVF clinics can learn from them

There are three ways in which IVF clinics can profit from the spa model:

  1. The increase in medical tourism: the spas created the phenomenon of medical tourism. An estimated 750,000 Americans went abroad for health care in 2007 and 1.5 million sought health care outside the US in 2008. In terms of ART treatment, high domestic costs in the US, have created a global environment where couples travel to procure fertility procedures that are affordable. 1
  2. The adoption of a holistic model of treatment: the spas pioneered holism. The idea that biological systems should be viewed as a whole and not just a collection of parts. Holism refers to treating all aspects of a person’s health, including psychological and cultural factors, rather than physical conditions or symptoms. This matches extremely well with ART therapy. The causes of infertility, the reasons for seeking help and treatments can mix different disciplines from traditional medicine to quality-of-life advice, diet and psychological welfare.
  3. The creation of a spa environment: the idea of a spa as a place for whole body/mind treatment has been embedded in the human mind for over 200 years! It follows that spas are associated with an environment. For instance, when someone says to you, “I am going to a spa for the weekend.” What do you think of? Pools, baths, white towels and robes, ambient New Age music, massage, and beauty therapies. A spa should be welcoming but efficient, incredibly clean but not at face value inhuman and overly clinical. Obviously, behind the scenes an IVF clinic is an extremely clinical environment involved in the practice of high science! Ultimately a spa visit, unlike a normal visit to a health care professional, should be something you looks forward to. And an ART clinic should be a place where a person immediately understands that the focus is on them as a whole person, this is the concept of holism. Patients should not feel like a problem that needs solving. A patient’s immediate perception of their environment is where this understanding starts and that is where the concept of design comes in.

I could write a book on any one of these three areas! I have spent years walking around healthcare facilities, both state and private. And I have a design background in creating environments. So, I thought it might be interesting to consider what is an ideal environment for an IVF patient?

What is an ideal environment for an IVF patient?

Once the architecture and ergonomics of your clinic are sorted. What is the ideal environment to create a wellness centre and IVF clinic focused on the whole person?

Here are some design tips from experts in the field of clinic design:

  • Create Texture: Use natural materials such as wood, stone and natural textiles to create texture and contrast in your clinic. Locally made textiles, utilised as wall hangings or furniture accessories such as cushions, can then embody the uniqueness of the location. You can create a subliminal impression of balance i.e. holism by combining elements that complement each other. Use reclaimed wood and other recyclables on horizontal surfaces. Textured glass and ceramic tiles and metals such as copper and bronze for railings and fixtures.
  • Bring the outdoors indoors: an impression of nature, her beauty, wildness and fecundity, can be created by conveying a sense of the outdoors. The outdoors can be brought indoors by using mini-waterfalls, bamboo (both living and inert) and stone. Natural elements such as water features and meditative garden enclaves intrigue, but also calm, visitors as they experience the environment along with their treatments.
  • Dramatic doors and crossing over points: pay great attention to doors and entrances. These signify a crossing over point to a place where people can leave their previous lives behind.

One designer I spoke to said, “Patients focus especially on their initial transition from the street to the clinic interior. So, use crossing over mini-atriums if you have the space with water features, plants and specialized lighting. For any doors themselves, make sure that they are inviting and that there is design contrast between the areas they connect. Also consider ambience changes, for instance gentle music or nature sounds like wind and chimes/bells. Clinics can also consider giving areas their own distinct and very subtle smells in terms of air conditioning, aromas tantalise us!”

  • Choose colours that stimulate the mind: another designer says, “Remember environments must engage the senses. So, without going overboard, splashes of colour enliven our spirits; and intriguing textures engage our touch. White, of course, is a great starting point. But consider it as a canvas rather than an end in itself. And while it conveys hygiene and efficiency, don’t forget that it also conveys cold and ice. A few splashes of colour here and there, can do wonders to retain the clinical feeling of whiteness, while adding personality and life. Also consider breaking the white ice sheet up. Try brilliant white ceilings, but with warmer whiteish wall colouring, such as magnolia.” All too often the temptation is to try and turn a clinic into the set of a 1970s sci-fi show with a massive excess of white.

But what if you don’t have the luxury of a brand new clinic or an impending major refurbishment to apply these rules?

Never fear! You can renovate and rejuvenate.

There are three steps in this process:

  1. Step back and take a real look: colours go out of style, furniture, fabrics, and even fixtures wear out and become tired. For instance, white plastic fittings that once looked so modern go yellow in a few years, and if you repaint the walls it only highlights this! The typical response is just to replace what has worn down with the same thing. However, since the ideas of interior fashion are constantly shifting, the formula that worked yesterday almost certainly won’t work as well today. It may be time to do something radical in order to bring the wow factor back!
  2. Make simple fixes: just as furniture or carpeting can lose their freshness, paint fades over time. So, repaint. This can make a world of difference. Another issue is lighting. Aside from causing headaches and other health problems, the wrong light can affect not only the guest experience, but the visual quality of coloured surfaces. Lighting solutions have come on in leaps and bounds with the advent of cost-effective LED products.
  3. De-clutter: The cumulative effect of a few years of well-intentioned staff trying to personalise their working space can be disastrous. They might timetables and posters on the walls.  Or have coat/hat stands, litter bins, photocopiers, printers, and pot plants. Each individual thing in a room can subtract from the flow of a space. Make sure what is added doesn’t detract from impression you wish to create!

All aspects of design contribute to the overall experience and ultimately the perception of a clinic. If you have a budget for wear-and-tear, you may as well apply a few principles of design when you spend it! Even if you not going to go to the expense of hiring an interior designer every time you repaint a room!

Neil Madden, Editor

The Fertility Hub


  1. Jones CA, Keith LG. 2006. Medical tourism and reproductive outsourcing: the dawning of a new paradigm for healthcare. Int J Fertil Womens Med. 51: 251–255.