The design, development, and construction of sophisticated buildings relies on a variety of tools. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is one method that’s been growing in popularity among the architecture, engineering, and construction industries as healthcare projects continue to grow in size and complexity.

Here are some reasons to consider BIM for your next project:

1. BIM can save time and money.

Because of the cost and complexity inherent in healthcare projects, BIM tools and methods are an effective platform to aid both their design and construction. A survey was conducted by USC students Ji Wu and Derek Wong in early 2014 with southern California architects and contractors. Of the 85 companies that responded, 96 percent said that they used BIM, and 74 percent had been involved in healthcare projects. According to the survey results, there was general support for the use of BIM as an asset for coordination and updating during the design phase (see table).

Table: Subset of results from a survey by Ji Wu and Derek Wong, 2014. Credit: Ji Wu and Derek Wong

2.  Complex projects can be successfully implemented with BIM.

The Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago  is among the largest health-related buildings in the country and the tallest children’s hospital in the world. Considering the scope of the project and the client’s goals, it was deemed necessary to develop a detailed BIM model. In order to adopt the tool and maintain the process fluency at the same time, the project teams communicated diligently to clarify roles and responsibilities, scopes of work, level of detail, and data exchange protocols. Even without an idealized integrated project delivery model, the collaboration between the design and construction teams within the shared goals of the BIM protocol manual allowed a fluid and dynamic process that ensured a successful opening of the children’s hospital in 2012.






BIM was used on the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, which is located on a 1.8-acre site just north of downtown Chicago. Photo, exterior: Nick Merrick © Hedrich Blessing; Diagram: Courtesy ZGF Architects LLP

3. A tool for planning and clash detection

The use of a 3D model for interference detection can help reduce the number of requests for information during the construction process and save money as clashes are digitally detected and fixed before they become problems on the construction site. The team on the Sutter Medical Center Castro Valley (Castro Valley, Calif.) project used BIM to enable walk-through decisions about locations of shafts and major routings through the hospital, which minimized the possibility of construction rework. The complexity of mechanical/electrical/plumbing systems within healthcare buildings also makes BIM a tool worth considering.

4. Saving construction time

In addition to pre-construction planning and clash detection, BIM can be an efficient quality control tool. The use of computers on the job site, instead of rolls of drawings, allows quick and easy access to the most recent documents and sometimes the 3D model. Tablets and smart phones can also be used to access data. The rise in pre-fabrication in healthcare design can also benefit from BIM. The original design and layout can be done in BIM and in some cases the 3D model can be used with CNC machines to go directly from digital to final production of components.

5. Smoother coordination with state agencies

Although the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) is a California agency, some of its rules cross state borders to other agency requirements. OSHPD’s strict requirements for healthcare facility documentation make a strong case for the use of BIM in its ability to aid in coordination and to produce clear document sets. While there’s a trend toward specifying less on initial design documentation and relying more on contractors, suppliers, and manufacturers to supply this later in the construction process, OSHPD requires that drawings must entirely describe the building. BIM can be used to provide this information if clear standards and guidelines are set when producing the documents.

6. Visualization during the design and construction stages

Prototyping of rooms is especially important in hospitals where surgeons and other professionals are surveyed for their opinions and input on room layouts, operations, and work flow. Adding BIM processes to a project can help all of the parties recognize points of conflict early on and resolve them thoughtfully. For example, at the St. Bartholomew’s and The Royal London hospitals in London, simulations of moving equipment through the building model was conducted to detect any clashes and ensure that equipment could be moved through hallways and doors.




Stakeholders use BIM to discuss the layout of surgical suite. Photo: Courtesy of Mortenson Construction


7. Equipment layout

Hospitals house a vast amount of tools and instruments and BIM can be used to place all of these directly into the model for visualization and inventory, as well as to track the location of the equipment after the building is occupied. BIM data transfer to facilities management and operations can be accomplished through standard methodologies, such as Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie), and can benefit the owner and facility manager with the availability of information about operating the building before it’s completed; quick upload of the data into the building’s computerized maintenance management system; and reducing data entry time by using the values from the objects’ parameters.

Warranty information and manuals about gas unit heater are attached to BIM for facilities management use on the Good Samaritan Hospital project in Puyallup, Wash. Credit: Courtesy Skanska USA Building


8. Although being on-time and on-budget is critical, aesthetics are also important. 

Architects rely on specific design features, materials, and layouts to turn healthcare facilities into less scary, stressful environments. BIM can play a role in ensuring that the architect’s design is successfully realized by improving interaction with the clients and users; providing more detailed drawings for contractors and sub-contractors; and helping to save time and money. An example of this is the Palomar Medical Center where the use of BIM reduced costs from field reviews and schedule overruns, as well as solved some issues related to the design of the long-span green roof.

An image of the Palomar Medical Center, in Escondido, Calif. Photo: Courtesy of CO Architects, Photo by Tom Bonner


This is just an overview of the potential of BIM for healthcare design and construction. There are many other examples and case studies that showcase the best that BIM has to offer, including the AIA Technology in Architectural Practice Knowledge Community, where many of its BIM award winners are healthcare buildings.

Karen Kensek, LEED BD+C, is an assistant professor at the University of Southern California School of Architecture and author of “Building Information Modeling: BIM in Current and Future Practice,” and “Technical Design Series: Building Information Modeling.” She can be reached at