Is Healthcare Design Research Falling Short?
The jury for the Architectural and Interior Design Showcase is a neat little microcosm of Healthcare Design’s readership and conference attendees: a smart, passionate group of architects, interior designers, healthcare providers, construction pros, and educators. As I mentioned in my blog last week, they took their judging duties seriously, poring over entries and dissecting their finer points to determine which projects should be honored with citations of merit.
At the end of the day, we spent some time talking about the entries, the trends, and the bigger picture. I’ve served on many competition juries in my career, and this part—the free-flowing, candid, wrap-up discussion—is my favorite. Inevitably, the conversation takes on a life of its own and you get to see what everyone really thinks.
A big topic was research. While a few jurors were pleased to see well-articulated research efforts in some of the entries—and not just lip service paid via a couple of mentions of “Lean” and “evidence-based design”—others wished that overall, the research discussions had gone even further.
But, as another juror pointed out, how could they? “If you’re really going to do research, it’s very involved,” he said. It has to be built in from the project’s genesis, there has to be benchmarking, and the internal review board has to approve it all from the get-go. You have to hire a researcher to do it right, he said, and very few facilities are willing to do that for a building (save those that are grant-driven).
Ultimately, added another juror, the quality of any facility research is dependent upon whether the design team has the capability of conducting it, the owner has the capability and the drive to see it through, and everyone asks the right questions in the first place to find out whether the solutions are truly driving better health outcomes.
We’d obviously moved beyond discussing the projects at hand to the broader scope of the industry at large. There was general agreement on these points, and then another argument was put forth: The hospitals that are doing research aren’t doing anything new—they’re mostly just validating what’s already been studied and not pushing to break new ground. Things like the power of daylighting, one juror posited, don’t need to be proven anymore. “That’s the baseline,” she said, but the industry seems reluctant to take risks. Rather than relying on previous research, another added, we should be conducting more rigorous research ourselves. “I don’t see enough architectural firms out there doing their own self-funded research,” agreed yet another.
Conversations like this, with representatives from all facets of the industry, are important—but, of course, it’s not the whole picture. This is just one small group. (And, in our defense, while we may sound like a bunch of cranks, we’d been together in the same room for 9 hours straight, with no access to the healing benefits of daylight.)
Still… is this a fair assessment of the state of research today? And if it is—what happens next?