Planning, designing, and building healthcare facilities in a post-COVID-19 world will involve complex infrastructure and operational design considerations. Whether it’s prioritizing infrastructure upgrade projects like HVAC systems or redesigning spaces to afford maximum flexibility, the top priority remains how best to keep healthcare personnel — and their patients — safe.
This global pandemic has highlighted the necessity to design healthcare buildings that reduce risk while still controlling costs in terms of longevity and return on investment (ROI). Changing regulations and a need for more flexible design solutions may result — initially — in renovation projects for healthcare facilities getting priority over new healthcare construction.
The Future of Healthcare Building and Design
The American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA) released key findings collated from the feedback of 129 of its members who shared their insights on the future of healthcare architecture and design’s role during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
ACHA learned that:
- Over 63% of respondents helped clients evaluate alternative care sites
- More than 60%+ of ACHA consulted with healthcare systems to increase capacity, and 28% created over 100 beds
- More than 70% believe designing for mass casualty patient surges will become an important future consideration for hospitals
- Over 80% agreed that the telehealth boom will significantly impact facility design
Distancing and separation
As the pandemic continues — and likely after its end — healthcare facility design and construction will require key spaces that allow for social distancing. Some architects propose solutions that implement modular, elongated entryways where patients can queue while remaining protected from the weather.
Waiting rooms, a traditional area where many people sit/ stand in close proximity to one another, could integrate technology, providing real-time exam room availability and updates. Patients can check in remotely via smartphone or computer. For patients uncomfortable or unfamiliar technology, offices can install plexiglass separators. Furniture arrangements can include smaller groups, screens for separation, and less seating.
Emergency departments have already addressed the critical need of keeping COVID-19 patients separated from other patient groups. The design for these spaces might include creating a third “fever entrance” to which patients who’ve been screened with biometric technology are directed if they have a fever of 100.4° or higher.
Because they require substantial resources and energy to operate, healthcare construction plans are including maintainable, green options that promote sustainability, cost savings, and long-term value.
As national standards including Facility Guidelines Institute (FGI), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and state/ local regulations challenge hospitals to become more energy efficient, the design and construction industries will continue to innovate and deliver high-performing hospitals.
Architects will design healthcare environments more easily adaptable for impacts caused by climate emergencies, including extreme weather incidents, poor air quality, or inadequate food supply. Building redundancy into operations and critical patient services will allow hospitals and other healthcare facilities to provide uninterrupted care.
Industry experts suggest that new med-surg patient units will benefit from the flexibility of using acuity adaptable rooms. These cutting-edge hospital rooms allow healthcare providers to level up care based on patient need. The rooms can expand to ICU-level care to accommodate infectious disease patients, for example.
Because they can offer more flexible and personalized care, multi-use facilities have grown in popularity. Smaller facilities are often better equipped to offer a level of convenience, care, and comfort than more major healthcare buildings.
Modular and prefab options
Constructed remotely and assembled on-site, prefabricated structures come together more quickly and offer a cost-effective solution that supports future growth.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated growth in an already-expanding trend to implement health IT resources. New healthcare construction and renovation will include updated technology that facilitates telemedicine, faster access to patient records, and collaboration among geographically dispersed physicians and specialists.
Integrated technologies will continue to enable robust, easily accessible virtual care environments. The expectations for technologically connected and intuitive medical facilities have already increased. While outdated facilities may require retrofits to catch up to the rapid pace of growth, new construction and build outs have already begun to accommodate advanced technology that includes AI and robotics.
Incorporating AI into building design has helped health systems to better manage their operations by creating more responsive facilities with optimized building systems that reduce or eliminate waste.
Planning Beyond the Pandemic
The ACHA survey also asked participants — many of whom represented severely affected states including New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, California, and Pennsylvania — to share their concerns about future obstacles. Challenges the respondents identified included:
- Designing hospitals in such a way that they can continue normal operations — like elective procedures — during a pandemic without disrupting regular patient treatment or incurring significant financial challenges
- Effectively transforming facility intake and entry design that effectively manages patient/ visitor traffic flow to control cross-contamination
- Utilizing a design approach that emphasizes building flexible, adaptable facilities that can transition easily to accommodate a quick response to evolving medical priorities
Usually, designers and architects leverage their skills to puzzle out existing problems that they can see. Now, however, these professionals may need to change their approach — collectively working with healthcare providers, medical simulation modelers, construction professionals, and the manufacturing industries to predict potential future needs.
Healthcare architects and designers have worked previously to accommodate other trends that include LEAN/ IPD, Building Information Modeling (BIM), and Evidence Based Design (EBD). Some experts predict that hospital systems will employ central warehouses to store surge supplies and facilitate more efficient supply distribution. Facilities that already planned for resiliency, capability, flexibility, and staff safety have already reaped the benefits of those plans — which will likely become a part of code and FGI language.
As healthcare construction trends in a post-COVID-19 world evolve, those in the industry can expect to see:
- An increased number of airborne infection isolation rooms/ units — or rooms with the flexibility to become isolation rooms
- Addition of flexible spacing that hospitals and clinics can use as mass patient screening/ triage mobile command centers
- Infrastructure support for expanded telemedicine protocols
- Separation of HVAC infrastructure systems according to patient unit type and hospital area served
- Expanded inventory storage for supplies
The members of CREA United’s Medical and Healthcare Real Estate Group offer a depth and breadth of knowledge about the specific regulatory and technological requirements of the healthcare field. Anthony Pagnotta, PE, SECB at Gilsanz, Murray, Steficek Structural Engineers & Building Envelope Consultants; Mitchell Brie, Vice President of HealthCare Compliance Network; Leonard D. Savino, PE at Langan Engineering & Environmental Services; Brian Bermudez, a partner at Medical Dental Build LLC; and Pat Avallone, Vice President Healthcare at RSC Architects have the expertise you need to deliver a successful healthcare facility construction project.