More than a decade after first studying the quality of cancer care in the U.S., the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in September reported that barriers to achieving quality care remain challenging. Those barriers include a failure to provide patient-centered and palliative care, as well as a failure to make care decisions based on current scientific evidence.

Add to that the fact that the cost of cancer treatment is on the rise—IOM reports it’s rising faster than many other sectors of medicine, projected to reach $173 billion by 2020 from $125 billion in 2010—and the number of skilled physicians to provide care is on the decline.

It goes without saying that this is a daunting scenario, but it stands to only get worse. According to the IOM report, “Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis,” 14 million people have had cancer and more than 1.6 million new cases are diagnosed each year.

But cancer is a disease of aging, and as baby boomers grow older, the number of the most susceptible adults—those age 65 or older—is expected to double by 2030 and increase the population of those diagnosed with cancer by 45 percent.

In short, the report states: We’re not ready for this.

To better prepare, IOM suggests six improvements that should be made to the care delivery process: (1) engage patients; (2) adequately staff, train, and coordinate the workforce; (3) provide evidence-based care; (4) learn health information technology; (5) translate evidence into clinical practice, quality measurement, and performance improvement; and (6) offer accessible and affordable care.

When working toward a more effective care delivery system, the cancer community will likely turn to its partners in the design space to support this shift; in fact, it’s already happening.

Earlier this year, I wrote a trend report on cancer center design (See "Cancer Center Design Supports Hopeful Healing"). Designers discussed how shifts in the physical environment reflect new client goals for their facilities and care delivery models.

For example, the IOM report greatly stresses the need for not only well-trained staff but for coordinated care teams. To that end, cancer centers today are being built to support multidisciplinary groups of caregivers, bringing physicians, surgeons, and everyone in between together under one roof, with workspaces designed for collocation as well as easy in-and-out access for visiting team members with the help of “timeshare” models for offices.

Patient engagement, too, is being addressed by designing spaces that first better fit their needs—from controls for everything from lighting to privacy as well as community centers, education rooms, and additional amenities like yoga space, acupuncture rooms, and fitness areas—while having care teams on-site to provide a more personalized care plan. At the same time, a growth in outpatient centers is improving access to care.

From designing space for health IT to creating translational research centers adjoined to cancer treatment areas, how else can designers work to support the IOM report's suggested improvements to cancer care delivery?