Healthcare reform is pushing organizations across the country to rethink their operations. As such, many owners are planning off-campus outpatient centers that integrate ambulatory services into a single facility located close to where people live.

These “big box” outpatient centers, which are often located in retail locations, are expected to play a crucial role in helping health systems expand their patient base and enhance patient care. But they also present a number of inherent design challenges.

An article in HCD’s September issue looks at United Health Services’ (UHS) first integrated outpatient center in Vestal, N.Y. Some of the challenges and opportunities involved in the design and construction of that project can provide some big picture insight to the industry at-large.

Sometimes the biggest obstacle is the location itself.

When NexCore got involved in UHS’ Vestal project, the owner was already in the bidding process on a 4.7-acre site. NexCore assisted the UHS team in conducting a site analysis and determined it was not large enough for all the outpatient services and necessary surface parking, and thus suggested relocating the project to an adjacent 6.8-acre site.

“That was important, so there could be space for internal growth within the building and capacity for ample parking,” says Kim Prentice, architect, managing director of development and operations, NexCore Group. 

Creating a visible presence is also key.

Many centers are located in retail corridors, where consumers are familiar with shopping for groceries or a new TV, but not necessarily healthcare services.

Prentice says for the Vestal project, careful attention was given to studying the street presence of the building main entry from the retail corridor. Much of the exiting vegetation near the building was cleared to increase visibility and two monument signs were located along two major access roads entering the site.

Obstacles aside, there’s plenty of opportunity for success with moving to more off-campus outpatient centers. UHS Vestal, which opened a little over a year ago, reports its walk-in center is busier than any of the system’s other centers, surpassing volume projections by 41 percent in 2012.

The key for designers and owners is thinking about not just repackaging an organization’s services into a smaller location, but looking for opportunities to innovate and differentiate.