In this series, Healthcare Design asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what’s got their attention and share some ideas on the subject.

Charles Griffin, a senior principal and studio leader at WHR Architects (Houston), is the 2014 president of the Academy of Architecture for Health (AAH) of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Here he shares his thoughts on Lean design, collaborating with industry organizations, and influencing the next generation of design and designers.

1. Mergers

It seems like every month another healthcare system announces a major merger. While it makes solid business sense in response to cost-saving imperatives, it puts immense pressure on organizations to do more with less. Certainly there are economies of scales and efficiencies to be gained with leaner systems. Yet, as the push to reduce costs affects facilities, it also affects clinical demand for effective and efficient care environments, all of which have an impact on the quality of care. One way healthcare architects can help make every dollar count for clients is to leverage the growing body of research about process, spatial configuration, and materials to inform design decisions.

2. Mentoring: Pass it on

With demographic shifts that now have multiple generations in every workplace, including healthcare organizations and firms, there’s a very real need to transfer knowledge to younger practitioners. Many organizations have active mentorship plans in place for training and professional growth and a number of firms now offer fellowship programs that help accelerate the learning process for recent grads. WHR’s annual Tradewell Fellowship, now in its 16th year, is one example. There are also excellent webinars and other programs offered by industry groups, as well as conferences. With several generations of bright and thoughtful architects coming on the heels of the baby boomers, they need only the opportunity, encouragement, and experience to carry on the leadership of our profession.

3. Benefits of collaboration

There’s a Japanese proverb that says, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” My personal experience as a member of the AAH is testament to that wisdom. Working closely with members of the AAH and other knowledge communities in the AIA, we have an exceptional opportunity to share our knowledge and experience.  As we expand our collaborative reach to other organizations working in healthcare, including American College of Healthcare Architects, American Society of Hospital Engineers, and its parent organization, The American Hospital Association, The Center for Health Design, Building Research Information Knowledgebase, Academy of Architecture for Health Foundation, and Facilities Guidelines Institute, there’s a force multiplier effect that benefits individuals, firms, and, mostly importantly, our clients.

4. Working on the front lines of wellness

The AIA recently published an infographic titled “Designing Communities, Shaping Health.” The introduction posits: “As an architect, your decisions can affect the mental and physical health of everyone who comes into contact with your work.” It’s both a clever interactive piece and a profound statement about what we can achieve. In my opinion, no group of architects has a greater ability to contribute to a healthier population than healthcare architects. Whether we’re designing a state-of-the-art hybrid OR, a more comfortable patient room, or a clinic in a grocery store, we’re on the front lines of a powerful movement toward wellness.

5. Innovation to drive change

Hand wringing about the dire state of our healthcare system seems endless. But rather than join the crowd, it’s our time to take up the challenge. There’s a huge need for innovation not just in the design of healthcare facilities but with process improvements like Lean and the greater integration of new digital tools into our practices. Collaborating with diverse, multidisciplinary teams, including clinicians, we can be part of the necessary transformation of the healthcare delivery system. It starts with us and our willingness to take informed risks in order to create change.

Charles Griffin

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