Planning Healthcare Spaces For The Tech Takeover
The accommodation of technology in all its forms—whether it’s installing an 80,000-lb. magnet for a super-sophisticated MRI scanner, mapping out the infrastructure to support wireless communication initiatives, or building new data centers—is a constant challenge for healthcare facility owners. And it’s an expensive one, gobbling up capital resources, a trend that’s likely to continue for some time.
In a survey of healthcare professionals conducted at the Healthcare Design Conference, Mortenson Construction focused on participants’ views and plans as they relate to the Affordable Care Act. And when it comes to allocation of capital, the study says, “Many healthcare providers have reduced design and construction activity in recent years in response to both the recession and the new healthcare law. For many, focus has shifted to information technology investments incentivized by the ACA.”
In ranking investments in IT over the past 2-3 years, 65 percent of the providers surveyed described them as “significant” or “very significant.” Those same providers expect a similar level of investment over the next 2-3 years. When asked whether the level of IT investment would reduce or delay organizations’ facilities-related investments, only 20 percent answered “not at all.” Almost half replied “some,” 28 percent said it has a “moderate” impact, and 4 percent rated the impact as “significant.”
Still, design and construction activity is expected to grow. Comparing this activity over the next 1-2 years with that of the past 1-2 years, 31 percent reported an expectation of “greater” activity, and 19 percent said it would be “significantly greater.” Thirty-five percent chose “somewhat greater.”
Where do healthcare facility designers and architects play into all this? Take a look back at the first paragraph of this article. It takes a ton of advance planning and crystal-ball gazing to make sure a building is prepared not only for current tech needs but also for most-likely scenarios in the future. The more the design world can intelligently advise and guide the creation (or modification) of space to accommodate it all, the better off everyone will be.
Keeping an eye on facilities that are actively engaged in major IT initiatives as we speak is a key step. We can all learn from projects like the in-progress Winthrop University Hospital Research and Academic Center (Mineola, N.Y.), which is taking solid, calculated steps toward being a “smart” hospital. An article on the facility’s efforts here will be posted on our site next week; I’ll be interested to follow the center’s progress after it opens in December 2014 and gets enough real-world miles on it to provide rearview mirror insight.
General IT planning has shifted over the years, too, as Carl Fleming, principal advisor at healthcare IT consulting firm Impact Advisors, confirms in another article from our March issue (coming soon). Tech experts, he says, are starting to take a seat at the planning table much earlier in the design process, but there are still plenty of missed connections along the way, sometimes resulting in one-off “solutions” that might not support the initial plans.
In sum: “Facilities designed and built in the next decade must combine efficient design with innovative and emerging technologies, to create an environment that enhances the way patients experience and engage a new building while accelerating employee productivity, increasing revenue, and providing a safe environment,” Fleming says. “The physical space and technology within should come together to blur the lines between phases along the care continuum.”