Kids Count! Designing a Child-Friendly Facility

Judith Phillips Otto


How do you appeal to pint-sized patients and keep them smiling throughout their visits? Some facility owners with a sizeable pediatric caseload tell how they do it.

Ron Manganiello, New England Orthotic and Prosthetic Systems (NEOPS), based in Connecticut, notes that NEOPS facilities are partnerships with the owner/managers, and the specifics of each facility design are up to the partner/manager. Some facilities have fish tanks, which are a good idea very soothing and very child-friendly, Manganiello says. Some have special pediatric rooms, and all have toys and toy chests as well as a TV and a video library with favorite childrens subjects.

Matthew Albuquerque, CPO, vice president and founder of Next Step O&P, headquartered in Manchester, New Hampshire, also knows that it is important to create an atmosphere that is comfortable to children so he serves his extensive pediatric population from a two-years-new facility that boasts unique features that are eye-appealing, interactive, and irresistible to kids!

Interactive Rain Forest Murals

Next Step created a small pediatric waiting room with original murals on all four walls, painted by Jean Aranson, the sister of Albuquerques business partner, Peter Couture, CP. The rain forest theme is painted over layers of magnetic paint, so many of the rooms toys and animals fish, tree frogs, flowers, snakes, and reptiles stick to the wall wherever children put them.

Playfully, Aranson painted her brothers face on a sloth, and Albuquerque is also depicted in pith helmet with walking stick, making his way through the jungle.

"The kids like to cover up my face using the magnets--fish, tree frogs, flowers, snakes, and reptiles," Albuquerque said. "I'm not sure what that means, but the point is that they have fun, and forget why they're here.

"Even adults enjoy playing with the magnets," he admitted, "although adults aren't allowed when kids are in there--it's their place!"

The mood lasts even when they proceed into the pediatric fitting room. Another wraparound mural immerses the entire room in an underwater ocean theme--with bright fish and undersea life painted everywhere--even on the sink and cabinets. Nets are draped over lights, and decorated with starfish and lobsters.

A Place To Have Fun

"A treatment room shouldn't look like a place where they're going to get a shot," said Albuquerque. "It should be just another playroom--a place to have fun.

"When I hear moms say their kids love coming back, that they don't cry, and have no fear, I know our design choice was a good one. Children and their feelings are very important to us. They should feel comfortable and at home before we ever start examining them.

"Many people say that they've heard we're a child-friendly facility--and that's a good feeling."

Video, Candy Gets You Through

Ted Trower, CPO, A-S-C Orthotics & Prosthetics, Jackson, Michigan, reports that his facility has a TV and VCR suspended from the ceiling, as in a hospital room, and he keeps a small library of videotapes selected to appeal to a variety of age groups--from Teletubbies to SpongeBob SquarePants. "With the TV on the ceiling, the patient can still see it well while I'm casting their legs or feet, and it doesn't take up any floor space in a very small room. That and a piece of candy can get you through most of the kids who have reasonable cognitive skills."

Colors Calm Kids

Lisa Urso, CPO, just opened her new facility, Albuquerque Orthotics & Prosthetics, Albuquerque, New Mexico, in February. Since 75 percent of her business is pediatric, she spent a lot of time planning her pediatric room. "Everything about the design of my pediatric room is deliberate. The experts' say that black and white encourages intellectual development, but a lot of stark black and white can set off a neurologically impaired child. The colors of my new pediatric room coincide with the Finding Nemo color scheme. The water is calming, hence a lot of blues are used. The sea life is colorful and happy. Nemo's friends are pink, yellow, light green, light purple, and blue; they all flow together to create a room that the child wants to be in.

"These kids have seen way too many hospitals and doctor's offices that are stark white with all kinds of scary metal exam objects," Urso explained. "I keep my casting/measuring things out of sight until needed, and have even put stickers on the ones I have to use, so they look friendlier. My M/L stick looked like a duck to me, so I put goofy eyes and a beak on the end of it and sometimes make it go, Quack quack' before I use it on the child."

Urso stresses that the choice of which cartoon characters to use in your decor is important, allowing children to relate to friendly characters they know. "I remember a children's hospital who painted their entire casting room in an X-Man superhero theme; it was distractingly frightening to me! The very bold, deep colors of the eight-foot tall men/creatures in their macho, gonna-beat-you-up poses may have appealed to teenage boys, but the trick is to create something that will relate to a wide age span in a soothing fashion."

Fluorescent Lighting: Adverse Effects

She also points out that many practitioners are unaware of how fluorescent lighting can adversely affect high-tone children, grating on their nervous systems. "I have always had one or two windows in at least one of my pediatric rooms. If I suspect a child's irritability is coming from the overhead lights, I turn them off and work in natural light. Windows are also great for a little time-out distraction. We look out and count the trucks going by or talk about the cars, the people, birds in the tree, weather, or whatever looks interesting to the child."

She also has a TV with VCR in the pediatric room and a large selection of videos. "This can be a lifesaver!" Urso exclaimed. "Some parents will bring in their child's favorite video, and when the child starts focusing on it, he hardly notices that I'm there!"

Stokosa's Kid's Hole'

Jan Stokosa, CP, Stokosa Prosthetic Clinic, Okemos, Michigan, has a reception room that is split into two sections: one for adults and one for kids. "In the kid's section," says Stokosa, "there is what I call the Kid's Hole' or cave. There's an archway cutout that leads into a small area with a five-foot ceiling with a light, some chairs, and a bench with a seat that flips up. There are books, toys, odds and ends in there for kids to play with. There's a foosball table in there, and a fold-out sofa that folds out to a bed like a futon, so they can stretch out and read. It's a place where kids can escape to--they not only have their own reception room, but this little place where they can get away and feel like they are hidden safely in a cave. Since there is no door, a parent can easily peek in and monitor."

Well, here are just some fun, creative ideas which may spark other imaginative ways to appeal to your tiniest patients!

Judith Philipps Otto is a freelance writer who has also assisted with marketing and public relations for various clients within the O&P industry. She lives in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

This article was reprinted with permission from the O&P Edge, published April 2004