I was recently offered a peek at a draft chapter from a book to be released later this year by Frank Zilm, Chester Dean Lecturer and director of the Institute for Health and Wellness at the University of Kansas, and his colleague Ruth Ann Atchley, professor of psychology and assistant vice chancellor at KU. In it, the two tackle the tricky topic of creativity in healthcare design, posing the question: “Can creative solutions be implemented in a field of architecture as heavily regulated and complex as healthcare?”

It’s a question that’s been percolating in our offices here at Healthcare Design for a while, too. Our internal conversation was inspired by a shift that took place at the judging event for our annual Healthcare Design Showcase design competition. Ten years ago, jurors were still celebrating seeing evidence-based design (EBD) solutions such as access to natural light and healing art. By 2014, though, those concepts had become baseline expectations—a good thing, yes, but each year’s crop of projects was starting to look a lot like the previous year’s.

It seemed that in the process of embracing EBD and its proven methods, innovation (i.e., unproven methods) was taking a backseat. Zilm and Atchley noticed, too. “Integrating evidence-based research findings into healthcare design will challenge the creative skills of designers and clients. A fundamental question is the degree to which evidence-based design will stimulate creative design or to what degree it will inhibit innovation,” they write.

Their research, which included administering several personality tests to 22 practicing healthcare designers, ultimately shows that professionals in this field really are quite creative. But whether EBD inspires or stifles that creativity is up to a project’s team, they say. Additionally, their study finds that proper composition of that team is critical for creativity, requiring members who possess a range of skills and personality types as well as a willingness to take risks. (Zilm will share more with Healthcare Design on the research later this year.)

Risk is a particularly difficult hurdle to clear. We recognized that here, too. To encourage the exploration of creative solutions, we’ve launched a new kind of design competition that I’m certain won’t result in projects that fit any status quo. The program is called Breaking Through, and it’s a conceptual design competition that celebrates innovation and imagination, inviting participants to create designs free from the limitations and barriers healthcare often presents. We want to be part of pushing this industry forward, and we’re taking it very seriously: The winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize.

We've had a tremendous response to the program so far, and initial conceptual designs are due to us within a few weeks. We'll soon be announcing the highly esteemed jury that will be whittling down those projects to just a handful of finalists. Those finalists will present their concepts live during a general session at the Healthcare Design Expo & Conference this coming November in Phoenix, with attendees using a live polling app to choose the winner right then and there. It's pretty exciting stuff—and hopefully will be plenty inspiring, too. More coming soon.