The U.S. healthcare system faces a looming shortage of physicians in the coming decade, with a deficit of up to 90,000 projected by 2025. The baby boomers have begun to retire and their generation’s declining health will further strain the system by increasing the demand for care. A growing concern of high physician stress and burnout is compounding the problem.

Enter the Millennials, a generation steeped in technology, insistent on a collaborative approach to work, and also expecting work-life balance. Facility design can play a role in attracting and retaining this coveted group into the practice of medicine—and supporting their success.

From virtual patient visits via telehealth to Google Glass-type wearables in the OR to robot-supported caregiving, Millennials are well-positioned to advance the practice of medicine through technology innovations.

For example, implementation of the electronic health record (EHR) has transformed the typical patient-clinician interaction. For those practitioners adept at the use of technology (most Millennials), there are opportunities to use the EHR as a means for collaboration and communication with patients versus simply a medical record. This works best when the clinician can successfully multitask (a Millennial hallmark), easily transitioning between typing, listening, making eye contact, and sharing information.

For example, exam rooms at Park Nicollet’s outpatient women’s center facilitate this process. An articulating keyboard surface and monitor allow the nurse or physician to face the patient while using the computer and also easily share information on a rotatable screen. Caregivers use an additional, wall-mounted touch-screen flat-panel TV for patient education, wayfinding information, or even entertainment for young children.

A team-based approach, in which “physician extenders” (nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, nurse care managers, etc.) will partner with doctors to optimize patient care, can also work to mitigate the effects of a physician shortage and is uniquely aligned with Millennials, who appreciate collaborative work and are less concerned than previous generations with rank and traditional roles.

Workplace redesign lessons learned over the past decade by companies like Google and Millennial priorities documented by Price Waterhouse Coopers have relevance to the design of today’s healthcare work environments. Led by the demands of Millennials for more conducive and inspiring work environments, the resulting spaces offer flexibility, mobility, and opportunities for informal or spontaneous communication and collaboration. The typical nurses' station of yesterday is already being transformed into flexible team spaces that offer areas for quiet heads-down work as well as interaction among care team partners.

A team approach to care may also enhance the work-life balance of this new generation of workers, something they highly value. They’re also focused on their own health, and organizations that incorporate wellness aspects into facilities such as fitness areas, well-stocked cafés, and improved work area ergonomics, will hit the mark. In high-stress inpatient care environments, staff respite and renewal spaces with massage chairs and soft lighting provide a place to regroup.

Finally, the culture of the healthcare organization (and how facility design communicates that) can be a powerful tool for recruitment and retention. Lessons can be learned from Target, which has introduced the Target Plaza Commons to their corporate facilities. This offers collaborative meeting space and employee wellness amenities, such as bike storage, lockers and showers, outdoor basketball courts, and a fire pit, in addition to group fitness classes and a video/gaming area.

This may seem a stretch for healthcare organizations focused on the bottom line, but to stem the impending physician shortage, innovations in facility design can be one important tool.

In the upcoming final post of this series I will consider how to design healthcare facilities that balance the needs of multiple generations.