One of the fascinating aspects of healthcare design is how it intersects with technology. Not that architecture doesn’t have to meet technological demands in other fields—nuclear power, industrial plants, even commercial shopping and office structures offer technical challenges of their own. But healthcare is unique in that it offers such an intimate, personal service using some of the most sophisticated, mathematically advanced technologies ever devised. And for some reason, these healthcare technologies seem to evolve and grow at an amazingly rapid pace—not a comforting thought for project planners who are building, if not for the ages, at least for the next few decades.

This exciting balancing act of the personal and technical was brought home to me most forcefully by a couple of articles in this issue: “Convergence of the ‘ologies’,” by Anshen+Allen’s Bill Rostenberg (p. 42), and “The OR Theater of the Future,” by Charles Osborne of Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott (p. 56). Readers will witness the remarkable convergence of radiology with surgical and diagnostic procedures across an array of disciplines, including cardiology, oncology, and pediatric brain surgery. The movement is spawning some weird acronyms, such as MRA (magnetic resonance angiography), MROR (magnetic resonance operating room), and I-MRT (intraoperative magnetic resonance therapy). More to the point, it is transforming the planning of the healthcare environment.

Start with the most basic challenge: incorporating powerful magnets in spaces where delicate surgical procedures are performed. Then there are the questions of selecting and locating image guidance media and providing space for computerized, robotic control rooms. Then add to the mix accommodations for new technical personnel, along with staff from clinical specialties that have never collaborated this closely before. Then come the questions as to what extent we “flex” the new hybrid operating rooms and prep/recovery areas.

Some forward-thinking hospitals are already working in some of these possibilities during new construction by providing shell spaces adaptable to the new approaches—witness our Showcase hospital this month, Abbott Northwestern Heart Hospital (p. 82). But many are still on the threshold of what promises to be a new era of healthcare planning and design, complete with complications and challenges never before encountered. Stay tuned with HEALTHCARE DESIGN, as we continue to explore these exciting and often daunting new frontiers. HD

Richard L. Peck, Editor-in-Chief

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Healthcare Design 2006 May;6(3):4