One thing is for certain when it comes to master planning in healthcare today: The process is a lot different than it was 10, even 5, years ago. While in the past, hospitals looked mainly at where to build, these days, the conversation is about that and so much more.

“Master planning is all about gathering data,” says Craig Piper, senior principal/operations leader, SMRT (Portland, Maine).

Today’s organizations have a lot to homework to do when it comes to making that effort, gathering demographics, lease terms, operational outlooks, building assessments, service lines, and more.

But all that effort and work can lead to some significant benefits, including a well-focused plan for the future and more efficient operations and building systems. Here are three benefits to embarking on or revisiting your master plan:

1. A better road map

Piper calls master planning an opportunity to reinvigorate an organization, but cautions, “You have to look at the organization holistically,” he says. That includes looking at strategic plans and how they marry with master plan goals and seeing how an organization’s service lines fit within the continuum of care.

By focusing on these areas, an organization can get the “why” on what they’re doing. For example, Piper says many ambulatory care facilities and medical office buildings are looking at how to break down siloed work spaces to become more efficient, increase opportunities for collaboration, and improve the patient experience. He says organizations need to do an analysis of their processes at every level and gather demographic information before they can decide what they need. “Understanding how practices should run and space needs go hand in hand,” he says.

2. Better buy-in

Joe Sprague, principal and senior vice president at HKS Inc. (Dallas), says architecture firms are being challenged on master planning projects to provide more forecasting and to do more strategic repositioning of old buildings to new service lines. He says to get on the right track, designers need to work with the c-suite at the hospital and lay out goals and plans before a project moves into the design process. “Everyone has a different idea of what’s important,” he says.

By listening to all of those voices and spelling out everything, including ROI, team members can see the value in the master planning process and gain an understanding of where the organization is going. “Once it’s clear, they’re motivated,” he says.

3. A more efficient organization

Thomas Levi, president of architecture firm Levi + Wong Associates Inc. (Concord, Mass.), says a typical problem facing older hospitals around the U.S. is a mash-up of different sized and aged buildings. “The buildings are very inefficient in terms of circulation, energy usage, and departmental relationships with each other,” he says. By going through the master planning process, facilities can reflect on their actual demand for beds, their departmental relationships, and where their services lines have evolved to see what and where their needs are.

“You need to do your homework and make sure you’re rightsizing what you’re looking for in the future,” he says.

For more on the topic, check out HCD’s May issue or read “Finding The Way With Master Planning.”