Objectives: The primary purpose of this needs assessment study, which looked at the palliative care population of Bridgepoint Hospital, Toronto, was to describe what patients and their families perceive to be important elements in the design of a hospital palliative care unit (PCU) for end-of-life care.
Methods: Twelve semi-structured interviews were conducted (six patients and six family members), using a set of nine standard questions. The qualitative philosophy of phenomenology was used for data analysis. Themes identified were grouped into two categories: I) External Reality and II) Internal Experience.
Results: In the External Reality category, participants identified eight themes: room size, noise, light, storage, temperature, colour, washrooms, and social spaces. Families identified additional factors: ventilation, furniture and hallways as social spaces. In the Internal Experience category, both groups identified privacy and autonomy. Shared rooms were mentioned in reference to companionship, social interaction, patient compatibility, visitor experiences and observing the dying process. Family members felt that room type should be based on the stage of illness, and expressed a need for spaces that promote participation in care.
Conclusions: Patients and their family members defined key issues related to end-of-life care and the physical environment. The preferences of both patients and their families demonstrate the need for a sensitive design approach to an environment for the terminally ill – one that provides a variety of private and social spaces.