I recently read an article on the future of the lighting business and it made me think about our own industry and the path we’re on.

Thomas Edison invented the first commercially successful light bulb in 1879. Since that time, the technology behind the light bulb continues to be refined and improved. But it’s only been in the last few decades, as a push for reduced energy usage became significantly more important, that large leaps forward were made. 

The article spoke about how profitability in the lighting world has taken a huge dive as the cost of the light bulb has been driven down and the longevity of the bulb has increased dramatically, leaving smaller profit margins and reduced numbers of products needing to be replaced each year. With fewer and fewer large hospitals being built in the United States and the competition for those large jobs growing more and more intense, the idea of diminishing profit margins sounded a little too familiar.

A lighting expert interviewed noted that the industry is at a critical juncture where the future of profitability lies not in the product itself but in the experience created by the product. Think about that: selling the experience—not the product—for a technology that’s been a staple of existence for almost 140 years.  

As I thought more about it, I realized that so many of the things we surround ourselves with have gone in the same direction. My alarm clock no longer sits on my nightstand glowing the time throughout the night and playing random music to wake me. Instead, I tell my Amazon Echo to wake me with a specific playlist at a specific time, and if I need to know the time, weather, news, or commute details, I just ask. It still serves as my alarm clock, but it does it in an experiential way that integrates itself into my environment, improving the experience of being in that environment.

What roadmaps might be provided for the healthcare design industry if we were to think of our work in the same way?

The article went on to talk about how the lighting industry needed to look at itself through fresh eyes, to understand how else lighting could be used to advance human and business interests beyond illumination, to find new markets ripe for advancement and profitability. Applications such as lighting for communication, water purification, and horticultural are all new horizons and promise larger profit margins in less crowded marketplaces than traditional uses.

So many sectors in the healthcare and design industries, from providing architectural and design services to traditional healthcare FF&E products, are facing the same constraints of “reinvent or die.”

Tighter competition, smaller profit margins, and the cost of the race to innovate are all impacting almost every business today. But the picture is not a gloomy one. These pressures have propelled smart businesses to think about themselves and their core offerings in a different light and to reimagine the value they can bring to the marketplace.

Companies can continue to compete for smaller and smaller margins in a marketplace that’s getting tighter and tighter, or they can look at their offerings through a fresh lens and find new, less saturated markets to serve. As the definition of what constitutes a healthcare environment expands beyond the traditional offerings of hospitals and medical office buildings into retail spaces, homes, workplaces, and even communities, the opportunities to redefine your work and products—and the value you bring to the healthcare experience—expand, as well.

It’s never easy at first to see new opportunities that might be very far afield from your norm, but once you do, the possibilities start to become limitless.

Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Heath Design. She can be reached at dlevin@healthdesign.org.