It is no secret simulation is being used in many industries, including healthcare, to more effectively educate, train, and understand complex job situations. Simulation is popular because it is able to replicate complex scenarios that are either physically or financially impossible to duplicate.

Special effects in movies are a good example. Special effects are a type of simulation, which allows cinematic creativity and communication—imaginary cities, otherworldly creatures, gravity-defying movement—that would be difficult to execute otherwise.

Modeling is the act of using computer software to recreate the actual or future design of a hospital's operations, usually by department or service line. The model shows the basic physical infrastructure, the essential people involved in the daily work, and it animates employees' work routines both visually and mathematically, in real time so accurate data is provided on processes and productivity that are otherwise invisible. 

Outside of paying a large team of professionals to shadow, observe, and scientifically record what happens every day, it is the only concrete way to digest, analyze, and improve what happens in a hospital day after day, week after week.

Simulation in existing operations is where Lean design and Six Sigma meet a project. Lean design improves healthcare efficiency by reducing waste. Six Sigma improves healthcare quality by standardizing processes. Only through early planning with an architect can the benefits of Lean and Six Sigma be designed into the project. And, early on, when multiple ideas can be modeled and tested in a virtual way for very little money, is where simulation provides value.

In 2001, the Institute of Medicine published its six aims for quality improvement in healthcare systems. The six aims of healthcare are:

  • Efficient
  • Effective
  • Safe
  • Patient-centered
  • Timely
  • Equitable

These six items are often quoted and used as models around which hospitals design care delivery philosophies and physical facilities. 

Simulation positively affects all six aspects of healthcare delivery. It ensures an efficient spacial layout and supports execution; allows care to be more effective by normalizing work processes; increases safe methods through analysis of current procedures versus ideal procedures; provides patient-centered care through design of the physical hospital environment around the patient; maximizes access in a timely manner by department or service line; and through study and design, helps caregivers provide each patient with maximum and equitable attention. 

With the need for every dollar and square foot to be scrutinized prior to breaking ground, simulation is an essential design tool in a post-healthcare reform market. To maximize the results and "right-size" your next healthcare project, ask your design and construction team what their capabilities are with simulation and its integration with virtual design for healthcare.

Lee works for Haskell and writes on healthcare design, project, and strategy topics in his blog, “Owner’s Toolbox” at