Before kicking of Healthcare Design’s 2020 Breaking Through conceptual design competition last month at the 2019 HCD Expo & Conference in New Orleans, Editor-In-Chief Jennifer Kovacs Silvis tapped into the minds of some of the leading healthcare owners to discuss what the industry should be considering when it comes to innovation and the future of healthcare design, during the closing keynote presentation, “Breaking Through: What’s Coming Next?”

Taking the stage were Chris Connell, chief design officer at Cleveland Clinic; Suzen Heeley, executive director, design+construction at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Kevin Mahoney, CEO, University of Pennsylvania Health System; and Scott Nelson, system vice president, planning, design and construction at Advocate Aurora Health. Top of mind with this powerhouse panel were challenges associated with the shift to more care being delivered in ambulatory settings, technology integration, and developing the right strategies and project teams to drive innovation.

The panelists started by discussing the impact of more care being delivered in the ambulatory setting and how they’re trying to innovate their approaches. “The industry is going to right care in the right place at the right time,” Nelson said. For example, he said Advocate Aurora Health has been focused on rethinking its care model by improving access to care. Within its locations, the organization if emphasizing consistency with all its facilities sharing the same operating model as well as templated designs—an idea that others echoed as part of an overall strategy to create consistency across sites as well as improve the patient experience. For University of Pennsylvania Health System, Mahoney said that means using consistent materials and color palettes and equipment. “The similarity puts patients at ease,” he says.

While trying to adapt, the industry is also seeing new players in the ambulatory care field, where the barriers to entry are lower than opening a large, inpatient hospital. Mahoney noted that this reality makes it imperative for existing players to innovate or risk being left with the big, expensive pieces left of the market. “I think it’s a call to arms—we can be disrupted, or we can be the disruptors,” he said.

Heely said one way she finds innovative solutions is by looking outside the healthcare industry to inspire ideas, particularly to improve the patient experience. “First and foremost, we’re healthcare organizations but we’re more than that,” she said, adding that many healthcare facilities also include spaces for retail, food, public activities, and workplace. “As such, it’s important to learn what some of those industries are doing.”

One strategy has been to ask partnering design firms to bring their inhouse experts from other sectors into project meetings when applicable—an idea that she said isn’t always embraced by firms, but she feels is important to learn what’s new. “If we’re not making you feel uncomfortable enough, then we’re not innovating enough,” she said.

Connell, whose background includes architecture, industrial, and interior design, agreed, noting that most big organizations are good at evolving care but that their support pieces “aren’t always as innovative.” To bring them up to speed, he added, “Don’t be afraid to ask the obvious question.”

Outside of design, the panelists noted the need for innovation in construction and project delivery methods, as well. Nelson said in 2014 Advocate began setting goals to increase use of prefabrication and modular construction. The organization also is a big believer in integrated project delivery (IPD) and has created a network of preferred partners who are onboard with the methodology and using a risk/reward contract. These initiatives have not only resulted in cost savings but also increased productivity and creativity.

“That’s a program that’s been robust for us,” he said. IPD has also been a valuable tool for University of Pennsylvania Health System to drive a team mentality among project partners, Mahoney added. “I like partnerships where we both have skin in the game,” he said.

Addressing the upcoming Breaking Through competition, which invites participants to consider what they’d create if the usual rules or parameters of healthcare design didn’t exist, the panelists offered up some challenges they’d like to see participants dig into. For starters, Nelson suggested looking at enhancing inclusion and diversity within project teams to address the aging workforce and the need to drive more young workers into trade jobs. “It’s not just the built environment, but also design and construction,” he added.

As technology adoption continues to improve, Mahoney said he’d like to see more ideas for healthcare organizations to adopt virtual reality to better meet patients where they are instead of always requiring an office visit to deliver services. Adding to that, Heeley said as more higher-acuity patients enter the hospital, she’d like to see the built environment evolve into a “truly smart building,” capable of participating in care and diagnostics. Connell noted that as healthcare transitions to more preventative, there’s a need for healthcare systems to rethink their relationship with patients. “I think there are a lot of healthcare systems that divide life into beginning/middle/end, ” he said. “ Systems need to become more partners for life.”

Healthcare Design invites individuals or teams to participate in the 2020 Breaking Through competition (vendors/manufacturers are not eligible). The deadline to register is Feb. 5, 2020. For more information, visit