Planning a Product Issue amid a global pandemic made it an easy decision to dedicate our feature coverage to the role healthcare design products play in the broader infection control landscape. Thanks to an insightful group of industry members across healthcare, design, and manufacturing segments who joined me for a roundtable discussion on the topic, I learned a great deal about where we are and what’s coming next. And I’m not going to lie, the latter is pretty scary.

From antibiotic resistance to surface-transmitted deadly fungus, it’s not anticipated that the healthcare industry will be out of the woods when COVID-19 is gone. But if there’s anything positive to come out of the past 11 months, it’s that the issue of how to prevent infection in the built environment officially has our collective attention. From healthcare executives to frontline staff to housekeeping workers to patients, we’re all invested in how to make spaces as safe as possible and avoid transmission.

What that means for the design and specification of products for healthcare is challenging, though. Not every pathogen is the same, nor is every surface/material used to create a product or the protocol required to clean it. The result is a lot of confusion around the numerous infection control-inspired solutions being brought to market right now and how they might contribute to a provider’s goals. As detailed in “Power of Prevention,” the roundtable participants urged industry members not to specify in fear and remember to ask questions—lots of questions.

And while, yes, there’s a lot of noise out there right now, I’m hopeful that it’s useful noise, signaling change on the horizon. After all, COVID-19 will pass, but coming together as an industry now and making smart product choices for projects going forward will better prepare us for the next outbreak—or, better yet, help prevent it in the first place.

There’s another threat looming for healthcare design, though. While the pendulum has been swinging toward more hospitality-inspired, experience-driven environments for several years, our roundtable shared that safety is beginning to trump style in product selections. So should we brace for a return to institutional settings in a post-pandemic world? I’m not so sure.

For starters, I don’t really think any of you would allow that. But with this newfound attention infection control has garnered, the buyer pool is deepening—and that’s not just in healthcare. From hospitality to workplace to education, all commercial sectors are considering how they, too, can design durable, cleanable environments. And no one in those industries wants to throw aesthetics out the window, either. I have a feeling that manufacturers will be busy in the coming months and years making sure no one has to.