As the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us, it’s difficult for the healthcare sector to fully predict, let alone prepare for, the future. Yet changes over the past few years—and even the last couple months—offer insight into what tomorrow holds when it comes to healthcare strategy and design.

In conversations with our clients, we’re seeing five key trends that we believe will shape the design of hospital and healthcare facilities over the next 10 to 15 years.

  1. Infection control and flexibility. Already a healthcare priority before the coronavirus pandemic, infection control will take on even greater importance in coming years. Hospitals across the globe now realize that they don’t have enough negative pressure rooms to deal with a global pandemic and are seeking ways to add more. The same goes for incorporating more germ-resistant materials that can help stop the spread of infections. Flexibility will take on more urgency as hospitals explore strategies and design options including converting surgical sites and recovery rooms into temporary ICUs, creating adaptable universal patient rooms and strengthening their ability to rapidly shift care to outpatient facilities.
  2. Leveling of healthcare hierarchies. Healthcare will continue its move toward a more individualized approach that allows people to take more control over their health. This is already being seen in the widespread use of biomonitoring wearables and expanded diagnosis and treatment settings that include telemedicine, urgent care centers, pharmacies, and outpatient centers. As this trend continues to grow, hospitals will no longer be the center of the healthcare environment, though they will play a vital role (see #3).
  3. Hospital settings will increase tertiary and quaternary care. As primary and secondary healthcare expands into more outpatient or alternative care settings, hospitals will become ever more focused on chronic care, treating sicker patients during prolonged stays. For designers, the challenge will be how to make these stays as comfortable as possible for patients and their families while providing clinicians with cutting-edge, responsive environments to care for the most vulnerable.
  4. Data will inform more design decisions. Outcome-based care will continue to shape hospital operations throughout the 2020s. This data-driven approach to healthcare, relying more on social determinates such as disease incidents, level of education, and condition of housing, will inform design decisions as medical providers increasingly seek metrics to justify decisions about space needs. Big data will play a significant role by helping administrators and designers identify future needs and trends that can make buildings more adaptable and resilient over their lifespan. Organizing buildings by common functions rather than by distinct programs will allow a nursing unit to switch function as the demands change.
  5. Spaces will become more accommodating and inclusive. As care options increase, both patients and providers are demanding (and expecting) more welcoming healthcare environments. These spaces must address patient needs, including mental and behavioral health, across a care continuum of multiple healthcare settings from hospital to home. For medical providers, the healthcare environment of tomorrow needs to provide adequate collaboration space for team-based care as well as individual work areas that accommodate the expanding roles of telemedicine and technology.

Anthony Roesch is director of healthcare consulting at HOK (New York). He can be reached at Emily McGowan is a medical planner at HOK (Washington, D.C.). She can be reached at