In my last post, I discussed how facility prototyping is an effective tool to test evolving healthcare models. Prototyping allows designers and healthcare owners to cost-effectively evaluate design ideas that can lead to more efficient workflows and better patient outcomes. 

I recently was talking with HGA colleague and healthcare designer Amy Douma about a series of full-scale mock-ups she helped developed for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. The 521,000-square-foot expansion under construction includes new patient units, expanded surgery capabilities, and diagnostic and treatment spaces. 

Douma noted that LPCH utilized an interdisciplinary clinical team to conduct multiple workflow scenarios within each fully equipped mock-up, which included an acute care room, ICU room, PACU bay, cardiac OR, neuro hybrid OR, cardiac hybrid OR, and intraoperative MRI. 

“We relied on realistic clinical simulations to test the design of the mock-up spaces and used the outcomes of this process to modify and finalize the room design,” Douma said. “Constructing realistic mock-ups was essential to fully testing each space.” 

While the constructed mock-ups provided a reliable tool, Douma also noted the growing opportunities in immersive virtual reality, which utilizes computer and graphic 3-D visualization technology to complement constructed mock-ups.

Here, a test subject wearing a head-mounted display with stereoscopic vision tests various levels of detail as he walks through a space. For the past year, Douma has been working with the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture on a pilot project to determine the viability of immersive virtual reality and explore how it can complement constructed mock-ups. 

While virtual reality provides advantages over constructed mock-ups—minimal preparation time, rapid test-result turn-around, the ability to present multiple options at a high level of detail, and less expense—it does not necessarily eliminate the need for physical mock-ups.

Together, constructed mock-ups and virtual reality are important tools in planning and designing healthcare spaces. 

“Healthcare spaces are highly vetted and scrutinized, because of operational and safety issues, which is why they are ideal for pre-design research testing,” Douma said. “The design decisions we make impact patients’ well-being, so it's important that we continuously research new ways to improve and inform the design process. Constructed mock-ups and immersive virtual reality, separate or paired, enable us to thoroughly test design decision before a project is constructed.”