Recently, a prospective client asked some probing questions: Why should we engage clinicians in designing new healthcare facilities if most of their input really won’t change patient outcomes? Shouldn’t the designer already know best practices and bring solutions that have proven worth? What really does matter in healthcare facilities and what is just preference?

Our discussion led to the following as “what matters”:

  • Improving patient outcomes in the safest, most infection free environment
  • Reducing stress for staff, patients, and family for improved experience
  • Building the smallest, most flexible footprint possible to reduce first costs and increase lifetime sustainability
  • Decreasing operational costs over the lifetime of the facility.

I have struggled for many years about how and when we engage clinicians to lead to “what matters.” We gain understanding and empathy from the many hours we spend in user group meetings, yet much of what we hear is status quo—staff only knows what they know and rarely if ever see best practices at other hospitals.

We can design facilities with the best and the brightest, and develop new operational models, only to have the vision change when different staff move into the building years later. Much of what we do throughout the design phases is consensus building that feels good, creating shared ownership but prolonging an already long, complex process.

So what really matters and how can we develop the synthesis between more ideal processes and the most supportive environment that has quantifiable results?

Why not imbed architects into the clinical environment, to observe functionality and provide solutions based on design expertise? Why not develop practice key room templates that can be continually re-evaluated post occupancy for efficacy?

The key is bringing the best current research and practice knowledge to the table to engage healthcare leadership in these common goals so the vision lives on after occupancy.