Moderator: John Mills, Marshall Erdmann & Associates
Panelists: Tom Stevens, Marshall Erdmann & Associates;
Scott Saunders, Marshall Erdmann & Associates
In 2003, scientists finished the Human Genome Project, mapping the more than 22,000 genes that constitute the body's genetic blueprint. It's been heralded as one of the most significant scientific achievements of all time, and experts say this precise knowledge of genetics could lead to major changes in the way doctors practice medicine.
Couple that with bourgeoning medical technologies such as robotic surgery systems, constant computer upgrades and the slew of other medical advances on the horizon and there's no telling what tomorrow's healthcare centers will look like. With as long as it takes for a construction project to move from idea to blueprint to building, preparing for changes in technology and medicine poses a huge challenge for the healthcare construction industry.
“It seems like it is almost an impossible task, but there is hope,” said John Mills, hospital design studio leader at Marshall Erdmann & Associates and moderator for the Designing for Future Technology seminar. “The most effective tool we have found is critical thinking … That's the only true weapon we have at our disposal.”
Critical thinking doesn't mean predicting forthcoming technologies. Rather, Mills and fellow panelists Tom Stevens and Scott Saunders suggested designing with adaptability in mind. Rooms and labs can be designed to fit either an ICU or cardiac unit, depending on future needs. Also, Mills said adding vertical or interstitial space in a project leaves room for technological expansion.
Of course, the demand for space to accommodate new technology creates a demand for space elsewhere, too, said Stevens, a project executive of advance planning at Marshall Erdmann & Associates. The rise of minimally invasive outpatient surgeries has created a need for larger recovery rooms as fewer folks are routed back to inpatient areas, and as operating rooms grow to house robotic and other new surgical systems, so grows the need for space for staff members and patients, Stevens said.
Increasing reliance on technology also creates the need for more back-up electrical and cooling systems, said Saunders, vice president of engineering at Marshall Erdmann & Associates.
“IT systems are really becoming mission critical,” Saunders said. “That's a real paradigm shift in health care. Most facilities need technology to provide care.”
Saunders suggests leaving space in ceilings and other areas so a building can be adapted to fit future technology and compartmentalizing systems, such as installing multiple air handlers instead of one big one. This prevents workers from having to shut down a whole floor or unit if repairs are needed, he said.
Another area to watch? During the value engineering phase of a project when cuts are needed to control costs, future-focused design elements may seem unnecessary to the folks making the cuts, Saunders says.
“Those are really short-sighted savings,” Saunders said. “You have to really watch carefully and think, ‘Was this something designed purposefully to accommodate for the future?’”
- April Frawley BirdwellHealthcare Building Ideas 2008 June-July;4(5):58