Changes to Healthcare Design Influenced by Covid-19 Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has swept the world, disrupting lives, jobs, services, economies, and so much more. The healthcare industry has been among the hardest hit, acting swiftly to implement new policies, procedures, and tools to protect its staff — and the patients they treat — from this devastating virus.

The science behind understanding the evolution and spread of this virus will continue for quite some time. As our knowledge expands, so will the industry-wide transformations within the healthcare industry. Already we have seen an impact on the delivery of care.


Doctors have turned to telemedicine to reduce office visits for high-risk and other patients. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) broadened access to Medicare telehealth services enabling beneficiaries to receive a wider range of services via telemedicine in lieu of visiting a doctor’s office in person.

Experts theorize that as insurance reimbursements increase universally, more patients will rely on telemedicine as their primary go-to option for health services. This shift will likely lead to updates, modifications, and changes in the spaces used for telemedicine — for doctors, nurses, and support staff. More than 50 U.S. health systems already use telehealth technology, including Jefferson Health, Mount Sinai, Kaiser Permanente, Cleveland Clinic, and Providence. These systems have pivoted to use their existing systems to help with managing Covid-19 testing and patient treatments.

In addition to offering rapid access to specialists unable to consult in person, telemedicine also protects healthcare workers. In one instance, for example, 100 health care workers had to quarantine because of exposure to Covid-19.

Spaces and Hardware

According to one study, in “ideal” conditions, the virus can remain viable on stainless steel and plastic surfaces for two to three days as opposed to copper, where it can survive for up to four hours. The CDC has also indicated that — while it’s not thought to be the main way the virus spreads — it is possible for someone to get Covid-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.

Many facilities are turning to products like antimicrobial copper-alloy door hardware, push buttons, and plumbing fixture levers as a way to mitigate the spread of the virus. One study showed that 96% of the virus was killed off in two hours and 99.2% in five hours when it came into contact with copper surfaces.

More than two dozen US manufacturers have sprung into action to produce antimicrobial components that include door handles, stair handrails, grab bars, sinks, handles, faucets, levers, and other specialty instrument trays. This growing industry – now valued in the billion-dollar range – has grown to include antimicrobial coatings which have been used for years to eliminate viruses on material surfaces, including doorknobs, countertops, and walls.

Items that include copper components or antimicrobial coatings will serve well not just in medical facilities but also other spaces with high volumes of people — like airports, train stations, schools, sports, and entertainment venues.

HVAC Systems

The majority of studies concur that the coronavirus spreads mainly from one person to another via droplets expelled when someone — even if they’re asymptomatic — sneezes, coughs, or talks at close range. But researchers haven’t determined how the density of virus particles could affect transmission rates. Are all droplets that carry particles of the virus equally infectious? Or must a specific amount of virus be transmitted for someone to sicken by breathing it in? One study released last week suggests that just talking launches thousands of droplets — which can remain suspended for eight to 14 minutes — into the air.

Most experts agree that the virus spreads most easily when people come into close contact with each other — say, at a doctor’s office for a visit or checkup — or when they gather in poorly ventilated spaces.

The healthcare and engineering industry is already beginning to see changes in Heating Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems used in healthcare facilities. ASHRAE (American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) has created an epidemic task force to address the relationship between the spread of disease and HVA in buildings during the Covid-19 pandemic and to address future epidemics.

A recent ASHRAE report offers guidance on building operations during this pandemic to include information about how to manage the spread of the virus, maintenance of HVAC building systems, and resources for best practices to design more adaptable, flexible HVAC systems that support better air quality and infection prevention for patients and healthcare workers within controlled air environments.

The American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) is also providing guidance on how to ensure patient safety and prevent infection during this pandemic — and beyond. ASHRAE has released resources developed based on CDC recommendations including information to guide professionals tasked with addressing the design and operation of ventilation in health care facilities.

Room Design

The healthcare design and engineering industry has already begun to reevaluate and adapt existing facility systems to improve flexibility and usability. Hospitals are looking at how to convert existing examination rooms to accommodate additional emergency beds. Engineers and planners are considering how to design future hospitals with the ability to temporarily expand capacity during emergencies and contract when those emergencies end.

Conversations are also including the need for touch-free controls for lighting, temperature, and other building functions; eliminating window curtains by installing windows made from e-glass or smart glass that switches between translucent and opaque and are easier to clean. New facility designs may also incorporate technology like VR headsets or video chat to enable communication between patients and loved ones. Future designs should also take into consideration the need to give healthcare workers dedicated places to rest between shifts, too.

This pandemic has emphasized the need for evolution and an ability to pivot more seamlessly. Covid-19 has forced everyone to be aware of what we touch, where we go, and the very air we breathe — and the healthcare industry is taking these lessons into the future as it considers what adaptations it will need to keep as many people safe as possible.

Learn how the members of CREA United are helping those involved with commercial property — as owners, landlords, renters, buyers, and sellers — navigate these unchartered waters. Our professional network can help with all business-related issues, from government guidance to service providers within the retail and healthcare industries and beyond.

Related Articles