For years we’ve been designing the administrative C-suite to provide proximity for healthcare executives to foster collaboration and efficient decision making.

But what about the D-suite? For years healthcare operations have been fraught with siloed departments and their associated fragmented processes. Department directors and other middle management are typically isolated from their peers with offices located closer to the hub of each department’s activity. Many times the only interaction directors have with their peers is during scheduled management meetings or when handling a patient care or staffing problem.

Advantages to this more traditional approach include observation and evaluation of departmental activity, direct access to staff, and the ability to provide hands-on assistance during peak times. To that end, the typical design process is often department oriented and includes management offices within clinical and support space.

However, with increased focus on care team collaboration, patient safety, and flow and throughput, it’s more important than ever to design a physical environment that fosters communication and collaboration at all levels.

During a recent greenfield hospital project, a debriefing with a middle management team revealed an interesting observation. The team had worked in an open office environment at a temporary location while the hospital was under construction. The open environment supported collaborative procedures and workflow development, fostered relationships, facilitated problem solving, and allowed expertise to be shared.

When the hospital opened, the team dispersed to their respective departments with their associated offices and rarely saw each other. And they soon discovered that they missed the connection and collaboration among one another and noticed interdepartmental conflicts and turf issues once again arising over time. Moreover, their staffs were quick to draw managers into daily problem solving rather than critically thinking through solutions first.

Cultural and operational changes are part of the package when changes are made to physical space. So why not rethink approaches to the D-suite during a new project? Here are some considerations:

  • As traditional offices become passé, design more open collaborative workstations that allow for acoustical privacy.
  • Provide private consult spaces for one-on-one meetings such as performance evaluations.
  • Organize the D-suite around service lines or like services.
  • Centralize support such as administrative services, copiers, and printers within the D-suite to avoid duplication of administrative support.
  • Provide touchdown spaces within the respective service departments for managers to meet with staff when rounding or for brief informal meetings.
  • Recognize the value of technology that allows staff to be in touch virtually.

Beyond the advantages of improved management collaboration, it’s quite possible that directors will be more productive and effective without unplanned interruptions when offices are located in the hub of their department.

The healthcare environment of today requires team collaboration. As healthcare architects and planners, it’s time to challenge the traditional way of thinking and encourage creation of new spaces that enable the desired outcomes of collaboration and teamwork.

Terry Thurston, RN, BSN, MBA, is director of healthcare operations planning at BSA LifeStructures, (Indianapolis). She can be reached at