In this series, Healthcare Design asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what’s got their attention and share some ideas on the subject.
Shawn Janus, the national director of healthcare services for Colliers real estate services firm (Chicago), shares his thoughts on how healthcare design is changing because of COVID-19 and how flexibility, air quality, technology, and supply chain all play a role.
- Lens of the pandemic
Healthcare design, like everything else, is being influenced by the pandemic. Traditional healthcare facility concepts are being re-examined through a new lens—social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), storage, space utilization, ventilation—the list seems endless. They’re also looking at facility design, including entrances and exits to facilities, to create less-invasive visits for patients worried about being exposed to COVID-19 and other sicknesses by increasing flow of traffic from the entrance, waiting rooms to exits. In addition, space that supports administrative functions is being reimagined with the recent boom of telehealth services by utilizing mobile check-in services decreasing need for lobby space in facilities and looking into off-site office space for telehealth workers.
Providers cannot afford to build facilities that anticipate every possible disruption. Rather they need to think through design solutions that allow for flexibility to address fluid, changing dynamics. The ability to isolate rooms/floors/wings, redesign separate entrances for infected individuals, and convert rooms from single occupancy to double occupancy are just a few of the options being considered and implemented. Utilizing prefabricated modular construction as a low-cost alternative to address surge scenarios is another example. The goal is to develop flexible layouts which can minimize exposure, prevent shortages of PPE and address the fluidity of a fast-changing environment.
- Air quality
Incorporating accessible outdoor spaces had been trending before COVID-19, and that trend has only accelerated by the pandemic. Courtyards, healing gardens, and rooftop terraces are being incorporated into many design elements. Prioritizing these green spaces addresses social distancing and provides a safe way to help mitigate viral spread. In the internal environment, ventilation systems are being designed with advanced filtration systems, which also track airflow within specific areas, providing the ability to minimize the risk of infection.
Telehealth platforms have been around for a long time, however reimbursement differences between in-person and telehealth visits were an impediment to widespread adoption. When reimbursement guidelines were temporarily altered during the pandemic, allowing telehealth to be reimbursed at in-person levels, the use of telehealth skyrocketed. It remains to be seen what post-pandemic reimbursements will look like, but it’s expected that telehealth will continue to play a more prominent role. Virtual appointments also affect the design of the physical environment. For example, allowing patients to virtually check in can result in a decrease in the size of waiting rooms. Facilities could also be designed with an external entrance to exam rooms, potentially affecting the size of lobbies and hallways.
- Supply storage
The pandemic also highlighted the need for healthcare organizations to shore up supply chains, from product inventory to transaction management. On the product side, 3-D printing is evolving as an alternative to expand PPE supply, which can help offset potential shortages and serve as an alternative production method. To address storage, prefabricated modular construction units, which are less labor intensive and less costly for construction, can also be utilized for warehousing capacity, allowing providers to inventory their own products.
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