My passion for healthcare architecture has only grown throughout my 17-year career. I love the complexity of healthcare buildings and the challenges each project evokes. I remember my first healthcare project like it was yesterday, an outpatient center in the Milwaukee metro. Throughout my career I have continued to work on the same facility and have watched the transitions as it changed ownership multiple times through mergers and acquisitions (M/A). What caught my attention were the differences in brand standards throughout each transition, watching each new occupant shape and shift the visual elements.
Design standards are intended to establish consistency for each individual that steps foot into an organization’s healthcare environment. When M/A’s occur, we are challenged with helping our clients look at their existing space with open eyes, while we implement new standards (that are sometimes out of their control) throughout their facilities. Strategic growth can provide insight towards industry-wide changes facing hospitals and health systems. Change can be hard, but I like to focus on the positive outcomes achieved by breaking routine and implementing an alternative standard that ultimately boosts efficiency without sacrificing quality.
Preparing for Healthcare Design Standards
Pre-planning is a vital stage that should be assessed to determine the overall needs of facility design. Before undertaking a brand refresh, facility assessments must take place to search for potential project liabilities or obstacles. Planning early is the key to success, providing a timeline for facilities to transform existing conditions to meet brand, quality and the new post M/A facility design standards.
The efficiency of any building is controlled through components and products that are used. The key is to find a balance between upgrading space features to increase the value or keeping existing materials that already work. Think timeless, not dated. When we can help our clients experience the standards before the project begins then it builds support of the process. Using Virtual Reality we are able to show our clients the beauty and simplicity of a refreshed space that features artwork, furniture and signage as opposed to the previous reliance on floor patterns, and how these complimentary fabrics and colors ultimately showcase and distinguish the brand. I find it helps to get everyone focused on a common goal post M/A; we are all in this together to create an environment that enhances optimal work conditions while supporting the organization’s mission, and ultimately promoting an authentic message to each individual that steps inside.
The Benefits of Healthcare Design Standards
Every organization embodies a unique brand. Design Standards provide consistency across the board for each organization’s facility. From my M/A experience, national healthcare system standards have been tried, tested and vetted, many times over; with features like flexible furnishings instead of built casework to promote a simplified brand ready for what the future will bring. Through careful direction on brand staples like color, accents, furniture, fabrics and artwork, the interiors can become timeless.
One of the tenants of healthcare design is to maximize efficiency for staff, better supporting them to provide quality care to patients. Healthcare design standards are also focused on maximizing efficiency by providing organizations with a benchmark for project cost and scope; for example, selecting from a “kit of parts” to help control cost. The benefit of having national contracts with vendors that provide anything from equipment to materials such as carpet or paint − is that it provides consistency. An updated facility space also simplifies maintenance protocols and reduced attic stock.
Healthcare Design Standards Impact on Staff, Patients and Family
Healthcare is constantly changing and evolving. This includes anything from surgical procedures and general care, to how the facilities are designed to support innovation in healthcare delivery. Change is inevitable and especially when part of a M/A, it can be hard to process. Everyone has their own way of getting the job done. While it is hard to adapt to a new process, the goal is to provide staff with the tools they need to elevate their overall processes, reinvigorate excitement in their job, enhance support and change workflow.
The goal with each new facility design is to provide efficient and cutting-edge care that will improve quality of life. Providing enhanced wayfinding throughout each facility reinforces service lines, ensures closer access for employees and helps patients and family find where they want to go quickly. Doctors that feel supported in their environment perform better. Families can spend an extended amount of time in hospitals to support their loved ones, by having a comfortable space to visit that feels new, clean and visually appealing, it creates a positive atmosphere. By providing an environment that is conducive to serve each user group, overall quality of life improves.
Keeping a Positive Mindset
Healthcare design is expanding and evolving each day to provide benefits to staff, patients and families. Facility design standards provide organizations with a “playbook” for planning, design and construction; helping guide capital projects and contracts for each facility to reach its full potential. The challenge after a M/A is to make all these moving parts work. Establishing a positive mindset on why the changes are being made and bringing people together to make an impact on the most valuable asset—our health, can make a big difference in the adoption or success of a M/A transition.
LaVonne Langlieb, NCARB