In our daily conversations with physicians, administrators and other healthcare providers, we’re hearing a variety of opinions on healthcare reform’s impact on the design and construction industry.

By 2014, approximately 40 million more Americans will have access to health insurance. This means more demand on facilities and existing building infrastructure.

We may safely assume this is good news for the healthcare design industry. More patients mean more need for new clinics, outpatient facilities, and inpatient hospitals. And with the industry shaking the doldrums from the Great Recession, the demand for new construction is poised to increase.


I recently talked with several healthcare planners and hospital administrators to get their take on how healthcare reform may impact the design of inpatient hospitals, in particular. The consensus seems to be that we don’t necessarily know what’s ahead, but we know something is ahead.

“Healthcare reform is a mandate for change,” said Gary Nyberg, RA, healthcare planner and principal with HGA Architects and Engineers. “There will be a lot of pressure for the dollars to go down. Lean design will be applicable because healthcare will be delivered in a lean fashion. Function, efficiency and patient experience will be emphasized. Ultimately, if we healthcare designers can save cost, we will bring long-term value to the client, which will enable them to invest in other amenities that improve the patient experience.”

An administrator from a major Twin Cities healthcare provider noted that we will have to change the way we deliver care, and this will have an indirect impact on space needs.

Families may participate more in care, which will mean more family space. In addition, the need for patient privacy will actually go up (despite some speculation that government involvement will mean less privacy). This will mean more private patient rooms, instead of a return to multi-bed patient wards, as some have predicted. And technology will continue to evolve, from diagnostic technology to electronic medical records, all impacting the architecture.

Ultimately, the administrator concludes, “Hospitals are still in the business of attracting business, so they will have to look for ways to attract more people. Private patient rooms, family spaces and greater efficiency will make them more competitive in the marketplace.”

Another healthcare administrator I spoke with said there will be more emphasis on using technology for preventative care, wellness and managing chronic diseases, thus keeping people out of the hospital in the first place. Only the sickest patients will use hospitals while the rest will use homecare.

This will enable hospitals to focus attention on transforming healthcare at the bedside in efficiently designed facilities that emphasize patient safety, privacy and improved outcomes. Hospitals, he said, will continue to support Evidence Based Design research that emphasizes private patient rooms, family spaces with 24/7 visiting hours, hospitality-like environments and lean processes because the data testifies to the healing power of good design.

Healthcare reform holds many potential opportunities for designer. As Gary Nyberg said, this is a mandate for change. As designers, we can help steer that change.