Innovative Healthcare Design Can Save Time and Money While Creating More Value

Updated on June 6, 2022

By David Jaeger, AIA, LEED AP, EDAC, Principal and Healthcare Studio Leader at HED

As the past few years have shown, healthcare executives have a vitally important job that comes with intense challenges and significant demands on their time and resources. In addition to working with clinical and nonclinical staff to enable care delivery, healthcare executives are also accountable to community partners to deliver modern care facilities, which can involve some of the most consequential decisions healthcare executives make.

In facility build projects, the fee associated with the architect and engineering component of the project is a relatively small part of the overall cost of the initiative. So, it can be tempting to go with the lowest bid on design and focus instead on the construction aspects of the project. But modern approaches to healthcare design offer an opportunity to add tremendous value, so it pays for healthcare executives to consider how design strategy and collaboration can drive innovation and deliver outsized value. 

What Healthcare Executives Should Know About the Top Current Design Trends

Just as healthcare is always evolving, healthcare design evolves over time to accommodate new care protocols, policies and technologies. The top trends in healthcare facility design today include:

  • Infinite flexibility: This approach recognizes that healthcare technology and policies change in ways that impact care delivery, as do the populations served. It accounts for high-level areas of change and builds flexibility into the design, acknowledging that today’s ER, cancer center or other clinical area might have a different function 20 months or 20 years from now. 
  • Pragmatic Standardization: Standardization like “same-handed” room layouts can help hospital personnel quickly orient themselves to the location of equipment, reduce the steps needed to deliver care, streamline custodial tasks and much more. Standardized design can be applied in patient rooms, operating rooms, exam rooms and other areas.  Within multi-hospital systems standardization can aid procurement, limit “one off” solutions that can create added cost, and limit wasted time in the design process.
  • Lean design: Lean process and design is not new — it’s now a decades-old, systematic method to drive waste out of manufacturing processes. All projects should involve some form of minimally targeted approach to reducing waste.   Improving the patient and staff experience by reducing wait times, improving workflows,  and overall limited the steps in delivery of care enhances efficiency while reducing costs. e care quality. 

These healthcare design elements can help create spaces that meet community care needs while enhancing satisfaction for patients and employees alike. For example, built-in features that streamline processes like digital patient check-in improve convenience. Window placements that provide access to natural light and outdoor views can give facilities a less institutional feel while reducing patient stress.

Innovative design can also enhance the employee experience and boost retention, helping healthcare executives alleviate staff shortages by making spaces that are devoted to vital work, like central sterile processing, more welcoming for employees. Eliminating steps through thoughtful design, improving workflows via better equipment and supply placement and adding employee spaces for breaks, lactation, etc., can also promote retention in the era of the Great Resignation.  

One real-world example embodying these strategies and techniques is the new McLaren Greater Lansing healthcare facility build. The work was handled collaboratively by architecture and engineering firms HED and Gresham Smith to build a replacement 240-patient room healthcare facility and Level III trauma center in Michigan’s capital city. The team brought the project in on time and under budget, despite pandemic-related material and staffing shortages. The 8% savings in  total construction costs was reallocated by healthcare executives to meet other pressing needs. 

The McLaren build incorporated lean principles to achieve savings, and the design included flexible prep/recovery zones and standardization to improve efficiency. To advance the experience for patients and visitors, the design included elements like intuitive wayfinding to guide people to where they need to go. The design team maximized staff efficiency with many thoughtful touches, like placing imaging services near the ER to minimize travel distance. 

Finding the Right Design Team and Approach

Healthcare executives are perpetually pressed for time, so one consideration when seeking a facility design partner is to engage a firm that understands the healthcare environment, recognizes the time crunch and is willing to alter processes to accommodate the unique needs of a healthcare organization. The firm should speak healthcare’s language, be willing to opt for fewer but more productive meetings and be amenable to building mockups early in recognition of the need to get multiple stakeholders’ input.

Another decision for healthcare executives concerns the overall project strategy: design-build vs. design-assist. The design-build model is the traditional approach where the architects and engineers create the design, and the construction project is then awarded to a builder, usually after a bidding process. In this model, there is little to no interaction between the designers and builders. The design-assist model emphasizes collaboration from the beginning. 

On a design-assist project, the construction contractor works directly with the architects and engineers to refine the design. For example, an engineer might design the HVAC system with duct work, etc., and the construction team would review the design and make suggestions as needed. This consultative process can reduce costs without decreasing value by avoiding expensive mistakes and identifying opportunities for efficiency, such as through offsite prefab work. Design-assist can also improve predictability in the timeline and costs and eliminate many construction cycle issues. 

Reliable time and cost estimates and an approach that minimizes issues during the construction phase are beneficial for any building initiative, as are designs emphasizing flexibility, standardization and lean principles. For these reasons, it’s important to keep in mind that while the architect/engineering fee portion of the overall project is relatively small, choosing the right partner can create tremendous value via design innovation and collaboration. 

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.