The pediatric care environment is one that demands a thoughtful design approach to support both patients and family members. And while doing so has shown to improve outcomes, the necessity for it goes beyond the clinical realm.

In fact, offering everything from family accommodations to outdoor respite areas to amenities like laundry facilities is often what parents will weigh when choosing the location that’s best for their child, alongside the standard of care being provided.

Recently, I’ve been digging into what fuels the children’s facility design market—a trend report we’ll be featuring in the May/June issue of Healthcare Design that was inspired by the large number of children’s projects that find their way to our editors’ desks. Designers spoke to what’s simply become expected of these facilities—and not just by families, as clients have come to recognize the competitive landscape requires something that sets them apart from the next best option.

In my talks with firms working in children’s hospital design, I asked each of them, what are the “must-haves” for modern children’s facilities. Here’s a look at what they had to say.

Andrew Quirk, senior vice president and national director, Healthcare Center of Excellence, Skanska USA Building (Nashville)
Quirk noted that competition is critical in the children’s market and that if a brand thinks it has something unique that will differentiate it  from the rest, that’s ideal. “It really is all about innovation and the amenities you offer. The families or patients who are going through treatment want new and attractive spaces that would draw them to ‘Facility A’ instead of ‘Facility B,’” he said.

“So the facilities themselves are typically more inviting, more engaging. As you enter the campus, the facility tries to welcome you in, be warm with not only personal greetings but with the aesthetics of the facility.”

Scott Davis, associate, Hord Coplan Macht (Baltimore)
When it comes to family-centered design, considerations have to be paid to not just the patient room but the facility overall, Davis says.

“All of these amenities cater to family and build the family unit, to bring them into the decision-making process. And then that extends to the unit as a whole. It’s a much different application than you might see in an adult unit,” he said. Think large family lounges, food pantries, or even flexible seating within the patient rooms to allow for family dining.

Gary Owens, principal and senior project designer, FKP Architects; and Kristin Ledet, practice leader, FKP Interiors
Before getting into the details of amenities and caregiving spaces, Owens says designers need to think about the future and how to build a flexible chassis that’s adaptable for shifts in operational care models. “It’s going to have to evolve,” he said.

Ledet agreed, noting that technology needs in children’s hospitals have grown dramatically over just the past few years. “A lot of hospitals aren’t set up with that infrastructure just yet to be able to make it happen quickly to meet the demand that some of these families and patients are in need of. At the same time, the technology on the care delivery side is advancing at rapid speeds, which is great—it’s just making sure the facility can adapt with it,” she said.

J. Patrick Schultz, director of Ewing Cole’s Washington, D.C., healthcare practice
Schultz agreed that technology is quickly sharpening the competitive edge of children’s hospitals, requiring accommodation of the most advanced equipment available for surgery, imaging, diagnostics, electronic medical records, and security. Like adult facilities, making this shift often requires the IT infrastructure to run it but also the space to house it. For example, 400-foot operating rooms of old are pushing the 600-square-foot mark and beyond.

“The more surgery becomes interventional, there’s the continued merging functionality and modalities between surgery, imaging, and diagnostics that’s all going to require more flexibility in spaces,” he said.