As we look back on the healthcare landscape 18 months after the Affordable Care Act passage, healthcare administrators and facility designers are evaluating potential changes. When I previously discussed the topic in September 2010, Gary Nyberg, AIA, healthcare planner at HGA , noted that healthcare reform is a “mandate for change.”

That mandate will impact how we approach facility design as details of the federal legislation take effect. Among the legislation’s key points is a renewed emphasis on preventative care and wellness. Clinics and healthcare facilities are well equipped to care for patients who have become sick, but how do they prevent illness in the first place within a continuum of care? 

Nyberg suggests this preventative approach will require more collaboration between healthcare providers and specialists through advanced technology that synchronizes patients’ entire health profile. In addition, mobile technology will enable patients to monitor their own diagnostic statistics and communicate with caregivers off-site. A follow-up clinic visit will be more efficient because key data already will have been evaluated. 

Preventative care integrated with new technology will require education, for both the healthcare provider and the patient. Healthcare providers will have increased opportunities to develop educational and community outreach programming that emphasizes healthy lifestyles can reduce the chances of getting sick. Spaces within traditional clinics and non-traditional community spaces can support this programming. Technology will streamline processes between patient, caregivers, and locations—whether mobile or brick-and-mortar locations. 

A good example of these changes is the concept of group exams. In a group exam setting, patients have the option of seeing their healthcare provider for an education session combined with an exam. Patients may meet with a physician or physician’s assistant and one or two additional healthcare professionals, such as a dietitian or a pharmacist in a group setting.  This concept is currently in use for OB patients. 

More than ever, architects and designers will have the opportunity to position themselves as strategic advisors to clients. With multiple clients in multiple markets, we bring a broad perspective to changes occurring in the healthcare industry. New technology, new delivery methods, new patient demographics, new financial models all will impact the design and location of clinics and healthcare facilities. 

One year later, we still are anticipating that mandate for change. Because legislation has introduced unknown variables, healthcare designers can help lead the way in defining the healthcare environment over the next decade.