Four Design Strategies To Extend The Lifespan Of Healthcare Facilities

Linaea Floden

Linaea Floden photo credit: Ryan Companies

As healthcare procedures and processes evolve, hospitals and patient care facilities increasingly find value in adapting the design of interior spaces to better meet the changing needs of patient populations and providers.

Advances in robotic and less invasive surgical procedures and the growing popularity of telehealth have required greater flexibility in healthcare design, in addition to the simple fact that we don’t have a crystal ball to show what the future holds.

As healthcare providers saw during the pandemic, adapting to changes in treatment procedures and methods was crucial to caring for patients and keeping staff safe during an unprecedented time. That adaptation now demands that the design of new healthcare facilities provide the power of plasticity to better align with changing needs.

While the cost of flexibility could be significant, particularly in rural regions where public funding is more limited, the entry fee is an investment in future savings. When large-scale renovations are not required because the facility is already future-proofed, healthcare systems can redirect funds to other areas, such as advancements in technology and equipment, innovative services, or expanding presence into new regions.

By designing with intent alongside architects who understand how to best implement adaptive solutions, hospitals will be better equipped to respond to changing needs in healthcare environments and enhance the vital role they play as permanent fixtures of the communities they serve.

Below are four design strategies that hospitals should consider to ensure future flexibility in healthcare environments:

Space versatility

Hospitals are recognizing the benefit of being able to quickly transform spaces from one use to another, whether to manage increases in patient volume or seamlessly transition to different forms of treatment, and are increasingly implementing innovative solutions to maximize the use of space and functionality within the rooms.

A key technique is to incorporate modular furniture systems that allow for greater versatility with fewer parts. Take, for example, a small sofa in a patient’s room that can easily be converted into a bed for an overnight visitor or a side table that can be extended to a larger surface area to provide more space for meals. Beyond patient care space, secure mobile cart systems that store important medications and tools and can be stored in small niches can permanently eliminate the need for additional or oversized storage rooms, allowing space that was previously used solely for storage is adapted for other uses as necessary. needs arise.

Patient care areas can also be converted to improve efficiency through the use of movable and retractable wall partitions. When fixed walls are limiting, operable partitions that can be hidden in the ceiling or moved to different areas of the room are another way to strengthen the versatility of the space. Rooms can be enlarged or reduced as needed, and when designing these adaptable spaces the design of future building systems, such as locations for medical gas outlets, should be considered. As patient and provider needs change over the years and hospital systems grow, operable walls will be a valuable enhancement to any room.

shell space

With cities that were previously small and medium-sized like Fort Myers, Florida and Boise, Idaho As they are quickly becoming hotspots for population growth, health systems will need to focus more in the future on building new hospitals and wings. Outdoor spacing is a common and ingenious tactic that hospitals can use to ensure they can care for larger patient populations without significant disruption to already established flows. Building space for growth and keeping it unfinished opens the door to multiple possibilities for future use. Outdoor space can be “saved” for future use in patient care as space for administrative functions, breakout areas for team members, large meeting areas, or storage functions. The success of these spaces is achieved during the design process by pre-programming for hypothetical future uses.

Consolidation of services

Healthcare space is at a premium, and the growing demand for urban facilities that have limited room for structural growth has required innovation in business processes to optimize operations for efficiency and minimize the footprint of non-generating construction areas. income. Ryan Architecture + Engineering The group has supported health systems across the country in the design, development and consideration of consolidated service centers. These centers have taken on non-patient hospital functions, such as supply storage and sterilization of equipment, and have relocated these functions outside the hospital setting to integrated service centers that are centrally located to support multiple facilities. This returns prime hospital real estate space to revenue-generating patient care services.

Engineering updates

While the code minimum is typically the immediate basis of the design, designers and owners can build resiliency into new designs by considering additional connection options for power, oxygen, medical gases, and other building engineering systems in patient care areas. . This ensures that these high-use areas adapt more easily and immediately to higher treatment uses, advances in technology and the subsequent increase in infrastructure demand.

During the early stages of development, it is also crucial that the design plan considers interstitial space in the design. These interstitial spaces between each floor house mechanical, electrical and data systems and, with adequate spacing, can accommodate system upgrades without impeding access to existing floors for patients and providers or disturbing ceiling clearances. Additionally, knowing that expanding technologies will require associated wiring and structural support, it is important to ensure that these “spaces between spaces” are appropriately sized to ensure that the design of the existing space does not prevent it from easily accommodating future technologies and uses.

As highly adaptable and flexible healthcare facilities soon become widespread, the design industry should anticipate an increase in requests for patient care spaces that can be converted to alternative uses to accommodate new functions and procedures. Greater flexibility bodes well for greater resilience, with adaptable spaces better able to meet the changing demands of the future.

Linaea Floden, is director of architecture for the Southeast Region of Ryan Enterprises (Tampa, Florida), and can be reached in

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