After 25 years working as a healthcare architect, it doesn’t seem that long ago that a then-new generation of healthcare facilities was taking root. In the mid 1980s when I was starting my career, we and our clients set out to reshape the delivery model by providing facility designs for the new “health consumer.” This meant planning facilities tailored to patients and families supported by a new understanding of the mind-body connection.

Today, it is commonplace to see yoga and weight management classes as essential services, and Kaiser’s “Thrive” campaign seems expected and downright ordinary, imploring us to take the challenge of personal responsibility towards keeping healthy. Yes, advances were made in every aspect of care, but to me (and maybe I was too close to it), it seemed like change was moving at a glacial pace. 

But hold onto your laptop, because the next wave of changes for healthcare planners is coming faster than you can say “wireless access provider.”

The e-patient
Tomorrow’s patient is being referred to as the e-patient: equipped, empowered, enabled, and engaged. With the explosion of Facebook and other social media sites, health providers are realizing that a new healthcare consumer has arrived, and that again a new relationship between caregivers, provider, and facility is required.

Tomorrow’s healthcare providers will actively tailor their healthcare programs and services for customers by information connections—social media or otherwise. Successful providers must reduce waste and inefficiency and increase patient satisfaction. For those interested in getting rid of those underserving  nurses’ stations, your time is coming.  

The net zero energy hospital
According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), U.S. hospitals use animmense amount of energy, estimated to be approximately 3 percent to 4 percent of GDP. Additionally, hospitals are responsible for enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. An average size hospital will release over 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. And have you noticed hospitals have a reputation for being less-than-ideal environments for patients to heal and staff to work in?

As energy conservation and LEED accreditation become a larger part of the national dialogue, hospital administrators are noting how expensive it is to operate facilities; they are now more engaged than ever to become educated to design in energy savings. It’s real, it’s here, and it’s a big deal.  

Maximum efficiency—maximum functionality
According to the USGBC, 10 percent to 15 percent of U.S. healthcare dollars are spent on capital expenditures such as construction and medical equipment, yet operational costs represent the bulk of expenditures, estimated to be 70 percent to 80 percent of the overall costs of the facility through its lifetime. 

There are four areas that our hospital clients are focusing on to reduce waste and inefficiency:

  1. Automating the supply and waste transportation system;
  2. Tracking of supplies and patients;
  3. Improving the delivery care operational model by leveraging mobile technology; and
  4. Anticipating change—hospitals are a 50-year proposition and need to be designed with more flexibility to accommodate changes in operations and equipment.

The Starbucks approach to planning
For health providers with multiple hospital facilities considering a building program for the future, I would recommend a quick trip to your local Starbucks for some inspiration

Outside industries often provide a road map towards smart construction and efficient design, but healthcare providers (and regulators) have been painfully slow on the pick-up and are justifiably accused of being laggards not leaders. This quotient is about to change in some dramatic ways. Buzzwords for the future: systems approach, repetition, standardization, branding.

Improvement of delivery method and documentation
In 2004, the U.S. construction industry estimated that 57 percent of money spent on construction is non-value added, or waste. Buildings consume huge proportions of scarce resources. Resource allocation and waste reduction are major drivers toward Building Information Modeling (BIM) implementation

To achieve energy savings, minimize construction clashes, and reduce errors and omissions, more integration and collaboration is needed. Healthcare industry leaders need to get a lot more connected, smarter, and more creative if we’re all going to be healthy.