Uplifting healthcare space to support cancer patients’ recovery

Shahnaz Healthcare Interior bridging gap between healthcare industry and interior design, benefitting cancer patients with its unique approach 

by HAJAR UMIRA MD ZAKI 

NAZRIN Shahnaz Peer Mohamed, the CEO of Shahnaz Healthcare Interior Sdn Bhd, lost her grandmother to stomach cancer at the age of 16. 

Having to witness her late grandmother going through treatment and losing her hair, Nazrin Shahnaz said it was hard for her grandmother at the age of 60 as the cancer had progressed rapidly, plus her family had little understanding of her condition. 

For Nazrin Shahnaz, the trip to the hospital was a traumatic experience, without understanding the background of the situation as well as the poor condition of the hospital at that time. 

“We went to the hospital, unfortunately there was nobody to explain what was happening. Even the outlook of the hospital was very bad and everything looked very sterile, smelly. We were terrified,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

Thus, after her company started specialising in the healthcare sector in 2018, the environment at cancer treatment wards became the firm’s main focus as it was a cause close to Nazrin Shahnaz’s heart. Having started the business in 2010, the company undertook interior design works in many different sectors before focusing on the healthcare industry. 

The healthcare industry and interior design are obviously two different sectors and most people would wonder how these two segments could come together for the betterment of cancer patients. But Shahnaz Healthcare Interior is definitely making it work as can be attested to by its body of works. 

A pleasant hospital environment can make the treatment journey more comfortable for both patients and caregivers

Interior Design and Healthcare

Nazrin Shahnaz said the company provided design consultancy for free and started its partnership with the National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) to financially help underprivileged patients undergo treatment. 

“I’m not saying that other diseases are less dreadful, but what’s unique about cancer is that, firstly, you can observe significant changes in patients within a month. In just two months, you can definitely see (the heavy toll it takes).” 

She said, secondly, before a patient can emotionally digest his or her prognosis, the toll it takes materialised really fast, thus the patient’s willingness to fight for survival diminishes. 

Cancer patients, including Nazrin Shahnaz’s late grandmother, had to visit the hospital frequently, sometimes daily, for treatment like chemotherapy. This is a long and painful process that demotivated not only the patients but also their families, including Nazrin Shahnaz and her family. 

“So, I wanted to change that. I said it can’t be like this because if you’re looking at a hospital as a place for you to get cured, then definitely, psychologically, the (environment) is not helping. That was what I picked up then,” she said. 

In materialising the interior design for the healthcare sector, specifically cancer wards, Nazrin Shahnaz said one of the important factors is choosing the right decorations. Evidently, the colours play the role in reflecting the positive outcomes and emotions associated with them. 

“For the wards, usually basic colours are used and there may be decorations related to art or entertainment, so that while the patients are here for consultations, they can distract themselves. And there should be some natural elements like wood grains,” she said. 

Nazrin Shahnaz says the company provides design consultancy for free and partners NCSM to financially help patients undergo treatment (source: Nazrin Shahnaz’s LinkedIn)

Nazrin Shahnaz said that it matched their feelings, as cancer patients often have mixed emotions. They might feel better as they receive treatment, but their thoughts might change the next day. 

“The environment is conducive in a way that it evokes positivity. I also encourage hospital operators to have motivational quotes along the way, so that when visitors and patients walk in, the words can give them a sense of positivity,” she said. 

KPJ Damansara consultant clinical and radiation oncologist Dr Aminudin Rahman Mohd Mydin said that hospitals in Malaysia and overseas hospitals are entirely different in terms of their infrastructure. Foreign healthcare centres often resemble five-star hotels in terms of their appearance. 

Dr Aminudin Rahman contended that cancer treatment needs to go beyond treating the disease itself, but it is also crucial to observe the patients’ experience and their mental and psychological state. 

“We need to make the treatment experience as comfortable as possible to make it easy for a patient to increase compliance, and to improve compliance for the patient for the treatment,” he said. 

There are many “horror” stories circulating about the side effects of chemotherapy, including hair loss, nausea and vomiting. Dr Aminudin Rahman mentioned that these side effects distinguish chemotherapy from other treatments. 

Hence, it is crucial for cancer treatment, and for patients to be provided with the most pleasant and comfortable treatment experience possible. 

“The ambiance created by the interior design is crucial for enhancing comfort for both patients and caregivers, improving compliance, and ensuring a more pleasant experience. 

“This can undoubtedly enhance the outcomes of the treatment. It contributes to the patients’ overall well-being, encompassing mental, psychological and spiritual aspects, in addition to addressing their physical ailment. It also takes into consideration the well-being and health of both the patient and the caregiver,” he further added. 

Dr Aminudin Rahman asserts that by creating a more pleasant treatment experience for patients, half of the battle is already won (source: kpjhealth.com.my)

The Importance of Compliance

With over 20 years of experience in treating cancer patients, Dr Aminudin Rahman asserted that by creating a more pleasant treatment experience for patients, half of the battle is already won. 

It made them feel better mentally and would encourage the treatment outcomes as well as improve the patients’ compliance. “Compliance is another major thing that we often overlook,” he said. 

Dr Aminudin Rahman further added that compliance means the patients agreed to undergo the treatment. However, there are also many patients who opt to drop out from their cancer treatment. 

“In my opinion, treatment is akin to a journey. It involves multiple stages, including surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which can span over several weeks, months or even years. It’s not only crucial for a patient to initiate treatment at point A but also to successfully complete it, reaching point Z. 

“Within that journey, many patients discontinue treatment due to unpleasant experiences and the side effects of treatment. Improving the patient’s experience can certainly enhance compliance, leading to a more positive outlook on the treatment, and, hopefully, achieving the best outcome for the patient in terms of survival,” he said. 

On the other hand, Dr Aminudin Rahman disclosed another issue that is often neglected regarding cancer: It can make patients feel like they have received a death sentence and are facing life-threatening conditions. 

He further shared that while the treatment given is aimed at curing the patient and controlling the disease, the quality of life for patients, including their ability to carry out daily activities, is also a crucial consideration. 

“Quality of life refers to the home, workplace and other places where patients conduct their daily activities. But even within the hospital environment, the quality of the caregiver’s experience is significantly improved by better interior design,” he added. 

It’s often overlooked that cancer treatment doesn’t just affect patients; it also impacts the entire family. Creating a pleasant hospital environment aims to make the treatment journey more comfortable for both patients and caregivers. 

Dr Aminudin Rahman reiterated the importance of considering the comfort of caregivers, as they often experience significant stress while supporting cancer patients through the disease, life-threatening conditions, treatment and side effects. 

“The factors we’ve discussed can have a significant impact on caregivers, and all these aspects we’re addressing can contribute to the improved mental well-being of caregivers. They will greatly assist the caregivers in providing better support to the patients. 

“This, in turn, will contribute to better compliance and better outcomes after treatment,” he said. 

Hope for the Future 

As a key player in the healthcare interior industry, Nazrin Shahnaz opined that it is still a new scope which is designated under architecture. Currently, she noted that there is a growing demand for specialised interior designers and contractors in this field. 

When neighbouring countries, namely Singapore and Thailand, started providing better healthcare, people started to expect the same in Malaysia. 

“The mission of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) is to assist travel councils in promoting healthcare tourism overseas. This effort has attracted a diverse range of nationalities to seek healthcare services in Malaysia. 

“There’s a comparison not only based on medical qualities but also on the overall environment and non-medical aspects. Hospital operators are competing on various scales, including the quality of the hospital environment and services. Patients expect hospital operators to meet these standards, creating a real opportunity for improvement and innovation in the healthcare industry,” she asserted. 

Moving forward, Nazrin Shahnaz hopes that more agencies and individuals will join forces to collaborate in the healthcare interior sector, despite its costliness. But apart from that, she highlighted the heartbreak of witnessing people, especially children, battling cancer. 

“Children as young as five to six months old are being diagnosed with cancer, and it’s devastating to hear. They should be out there playing, but instead, they’re going in and out of hospitals for treatments that are excruciatingly painful. My hope is that more people can join in this fight,” she concluded. 


  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition