If you're going to spend $272 million expanding a hospital, you might as well tap those who use it the most when designing and building it.

Nemours Children's Health System has taken that thought to the nth degree, with the construction of its new patient towers at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del. Leaders there have tapped patients for feedback in an exhaustive number of ways. They created six committees, each with patient or family representation, centered around such topics as construction, technology and the capital campaign to raise money for the new facility.

I touched on Nemours and its new facility in the latest installment of our patient engagement series, which you can read here. With the expansion slated to open next week, I thought I'd tell more of the story.

Kay Holbrook, associate administrator for Nemours, says that you're doing patients a disservice if you don't incorporate their perspectives into every aspect of what your hospital does, including the construction of new facilities.

"If you were building a hospital, would it not give you comfort to know that all of these different stakeholders were helping you to build it?" she asks. "I don't have all the expertise. For me, it would be very shortsighted to leave them out of the process. I believe that when we don't involve families we don't get the full picture, and we don't get the balance."

Patient and family involvement shows up in various flourishes across the new 450,000-square-foot expansion, which comprises two towers connected to the existing hospital. Children selected the colors of the windows, which ended up as a calming blue-green. The nurses' stations are built at a smaller scale so that children can walk up to the desk, too, and parents feel comfortable walking around and having a conversation with a clinician. Controls for the blinds are located inside patient rooms, at their request. And, Nemours was careful to keep ceilings in the hospital free of reflective surfaces, so that children would not grow frightened after seeing themselves covered with tubes and bandages — a lesson learned during the design and construction of Nemours other hospital, in Orlando, Fla.

Kids have helped to pick art to display, fabrics for pieces of furniture, and even suggested that the sidewalks outside reflect patterns and designs found in nature. Nemours also has a virtual council of patient and family advisers whom leaders can tap at a moment's notice over the Web to gather feedback in the design and construction, along with a variety of other topics.

Ana Maria Schwindt — a member of the Nemours Children's Hospital Family Advisory Council, whose son has been treated there for asthma — says she first entered the role with zero expectations. But, immediately, she saw that it was about much more than just receiving a free dinner and having your face seen. Four years later, Schwindt has been trained to interview candidates at the hospital and, occasionally, meets with faculty to tell her story and share her perspective.

Schwindt believes that patients are willing to contribute at every hospital if you just give the tools and training. "We'd like to be a resource so that they can draw from us to improve health care delivery. That's what we're about," she says.

Holbrook emphasizes, too, that gathering feedback is not a one-way process at Nemours. Patient and family advisers also collected input from clinicians to guide the facility's construction, and help to foster a back-and-forth dialogue.

"Family-centered care is a buzzword out there, and I believe we take it in its truest sense, where we really do involve families in all aspects of decision-making," Holbrook says. "That's where I get my comfort. People ask me what keeps me up at night, but what lets me sleep is the fact that I know that I've had families and kids, as well as clinicians, give us direction on this project, but at an equal standing. We've all learned a lot from one another during this process."