Achieving a better patient experience and improved outcomes is the heart and soul of any healthcare construction project. But doing so on schedule and on (or under) budget usually ranks pretty high on an owner’s list of objectives, too.

To that end, project teams are increasingly turning to prefabrication and modularization to bring projects to market more efficiently. And healthcare is an ideal market for it, thanks to the repetitive nature of building components and systems. Contractors can fabricate everything from headwalls to HVAC systems to toilet rooms off-site, faster and at a lower cost than doing so on-site.

And this trend is driving the prefab market. A recent report from FMI, “Prefabrication and Modularization in Construction 2013 Survey Results,” shows that 61 percent of respondents think the use of prefabrication will grow more than 5 percent over the next three years, with 81 percent of mechanical and electrical contractors surveyed already owning their own prefab facilities and 17 percent considering it.

Part of that positioning is to gain a competitive edge in industries like healthcare, hospitality, and education, where the nature of the buildings constructed provides an ideal fit. However, regardless of the market, contractors are also turning to the method as a way to answer pressures to reduce cost and increase productivity.

But not all contractors are making the shift. The report shows that growth since a similar survey in 2010 didn’t reach the rate projected, with momentum stalled for many respondents. And while economic conditions have affected plans, either putting them on hold or extinguishing them altogether, others were able to take on the risks associated with a new line of business and reap the rewards. In fact, FMI projects that the market will shift toward subcontracting prefab services to those already ahead. For example, 19 percent of respondents were subcontracting modular construction in 2013 compared to just 5 percent in 2010.

Going the way of evidence-based design, Lean, and sustainability, prefab is likely to become a permanent player on the healthcare design roster. It will be interesting to see how it shapes the approaches taken by contractors working in the market, and where we’ll see subcontractors stepping up to take on the work.  

And as this shift plays out in healthcare, as well as hospitality and education, these markets will continue to serve as a testing ground for others watching to see how it all shakes out. Prefabrication isn’t new, but it does come with an old stereotype of being "cheap" or "poorly constructed," something owners and project managers making the call on whether to use the approach may have to overcome.

We’ve certainly seen our fair share of impressive uses in healthcare, and I expect 2014 will bring even more innovation.

For more on what’s been done so far, read Healthcare Design contributing editor Barbara Horwitz-Bennett’s "Modular Construction Delivers Flexibility To Healthcare."