The pandemic prompted focus on clean and safe interiors—with the healthcare sector facing unprecedented challenges, from increased patient load to stricter protocols. Flooring was at the forefront during the pandemic, as hospital and clinic staff sought to keep the material underfoot as hygienic at all times. Now, the emphasis will not only be on cleanability, but flooring will be used to create tranquil environments for patients and their caregivers.

While keeping spaces sanitary is still paramount, specifiers also want low-maintenance options that can reduce total labor time, and keep expenditures in check as budgets are stretched thin. “High-performing, low-maintenance resilient flooring will contribute to cleaner and safer healthcare environments, while lowering operating costs and improving the quality of patient care,” said Amanda O’Neil, director of commercial product management at Armstrong Flooring.

No-wax flooring and slip resistance features can improve the safety of both patients and medical professionals. Performance flooring has to boast more properties and has to last longer. “In healthcare spaces, the focus will continue to be on contamination, infection control, and maintenance protocols post-pandemic, resulting in the potential for more wear and tear to the floor,” noted Tom Hume, vice president, healthcare and education, in market segment sales at Interface. “This requires high-performing flooring systems with improved performance aspects and increased longevity.” 

Mixes of different flooring are still prevalent, but the hard surfaces continue to be preferred in medical settings. “The pandemic has influenced a move from soft surface flooring to hard surface flooring. We’re still seeing a mix of LVT or other resilient tiles, as well as resilient sheet in healthcare spaces. While soft surface flooring does provide some comfort and acoustic benefits, we have seen a lot of soft surface flooring replaced with resilient sheet or tile over maintenance concerns,” O’Neil added.

Brian Parker, director of product management at AHF Products, noted that he expects to see more dryback LVT in healthcare spaces. “Our homogeneous sheet vinyl is being used in patient rooms, operating rooms, and emergency rooms. Our heterogeneous sheet vinyl is being used in intensive care units and outpatient facilities as well. Now, we’re starting to see more LVT, especially dryback, being used in different areas. It was predominantly sheet in the past, and now dryback is making inroads.”

Color palettes bring surprising sophistication to flooring that was once considered drab. “We expect to see trends continue toward more functional patterning and colorways that lay a foundation for design palette,” said Julie Stegeman, healthcare segment manager, Interface. With a focus on textural changes and incorporating more warm neutrals and French grays, these designs provide health systems with flooring that is both functional and beautiful.”

Colors continue to take their cues from nature, but they aren’t as cool as in past seasons, says Di Anna Borders, vice president of design at Armstrong Flooring. “Biophilic design continues to influence color and visuals. Blue and green have always been a staple in healthcare palettes, and we are seeing saturated tones of these hues with a warm tint. These warmer tints make it easy to pair with rich, warm but lighter-toned wood visuals.” 

The interplay between warm and cool hues adds visual interest, and creates the serene feeling that is wanted in antiseptic clinical zones. “We tend to see warmer neutral tones balanced with light, watery blues and fresh greens to infuse life into the design,” Hume added. These biophilic design principles continue to trend forward, as they contribute to a positive patient experience.”

Indeed, there’s now an increased emphasis on thoughtfully-designed flooring that enhances the patient experience. A stay in a hospital is frightening, so flooring is one element that can be used to lessen any apprehension. “For the future of healthcare design, it will be important to continue the trend of creating comforting, anxiety-free spaces,” Borders explained.

Experts agree that clinics will continue to look more like home or a hotel, as architects embrace the resimercial approach for new healthcare projects. “We’re moving away from environments that look very sterile and uninviting,” Parker said. “You’re seeing more of that design that has existed forever on the residential side in the healthcare industry. The overall aesthetic is warm and welcoming. It’s about improving the experience for the people that are either staying in or visiting these spaces. That’s key, and probably the most dynamic area of change.”