Five Priorities for Healthcare Design and Consulting

Lessons from a Clinician at the Intersection of Healthcare Delivery and Healthcare Design

July 13, 2017

Healthcare Consultant, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published as part of the Healthcare Design series “Take 5,” which asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what’s got their attention and share some ideas on the subject.

1. Design firms should have nurse leaders on their healthcare teams.

When they augment their inherent clinical expertise with design knowledge, nurse leaders can be especially useful to architects and medical planners in validating design assumptions about healthcare delivery. Furthermore, their experience in marketing, writing, presenting, critical thinking, performance improvement, and personnel management enhances project performance and client deliverables. Consistent with the hallmarks of healthcare professionals, nurses are fundamentally caring individuals, possess palpable integrity, demonstrate respect for all, and have a quest for excellence through a commitment to personal growth and life-long learning. Honestly, what more could a healthcare design team ask for!

2. Satisfy the staff and you’ll satisfy the patients.

Design that focuses on the needs of care providers will benefit patients more than design that solely focuses on consumer amenities. This point was powerfully expressed to me recently by an acute rehabilitation hospital CEO, who relayed the feedback she got from patients involved in user groups during the design of their replacement hospital: they said, “Give the staff what they need, so that they can give us what we need.” She elaborated: “Those in need of rehab know firsthand it is the work of the therapists, researchers, doctors and nurses that get them to a state of ability and independence.” She made the point that a major component of patient satisfaction springs from satisfaction with the care experience and the care providers who create that experience. Therefore, take care of the staff’s design requirements too, and they will take care of the patients’ needs.

3. Address the full spectrum of safety.

All healthcare organizations aspire to an error-free culture of safety as part of a relentless pursuit of continuous quality improvement. Great progress has been made over the last few decades, but healthcare providers are still challenged by nosocomial infections, medication administration mistakes, work-related staff injuries, patient falls, incorrect diagnoses – the list goes on. The list of potential solutions is endless as well: strategies such as creating standard processes, mitigating distractions, establishing performance expectations, and requiring additional training and education. But one often overlooked answer is design. Some don’t even realize the range of opportunity for improvement made possible through the built environment. For instance, even the layout of a patient room can decrease errors, increase hand-washing and reduce fall rates; adjacencies can decrease travel time and supply utilization; decentralized work stations can increase patient engagement. As designers and nurse leaders, we should be more effective in communicating these benefits!

4. Technology integration can’t be an afterthought.

New healthcare designs always include a vision for advanced technology – indeed, it is often required to optimize the environment. Although this opportunity shouldn’t be passed up, it creates an extraordinary demand on the enterprise during the transition to the new setting. The information systems department is particularly pressured to have the prerequisite IT integration plan in place and functioning in time for a building’s opening. As well, there is a huge knowledge transfer requirement that affects all user departments, not to mention the department(s) responsible for educating them. Technology is a project requirement whose success or failure has a direct effect on the most important components of the client’s business: patient care and finances. It is an area that must be well thought out from the beginning.

5. Design intent is one thing – activating that design is a whole different story.

It is a thrilling time when a project is in the construction administration phase and materializing before everyone’s eyes. However, it is also the most critical and complex time, as the organization must plan to occupy and activate the new setting. It requires an extraordinary amount of effort and expertise to transition and activate the building safely and on time. Not only must new spaces and systems be fully operational, but staff must be comfortable with the space and a new way of doing business. It requires a remarkable amount of logistical coordination that cannot be underestimated or left to chance. Thankfully, many healthcare organizations seek expert assistance and advice during this time, and designers would do well to encourage them to continue to do so. Ultimately it is the design and the designer that will be assigned the blame if the activation doesn’t go well. Conversely, they will be ones to receive accolades if the activation goes smoothly and safely – with their design performing as perfectly as it was intended.

Image courtesy of Sean Airhart/NBBJ.

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