The Center for Health Design recently created a training presentation for one of our industry partners to use in helping to educate its sales teams on the forces currently affecting healthcare design, focusing on 10 key trends we’re seeing and why it’s important to pay attention to them. After all, one of the best ways to relate to your clients is to understand what’s keeping them up at night. In the healthcare community, the list is not a short one and ranges from balancing spending on the latest technology to providing access to care for all.
Adding complexity to the milieu is the fact that this is an election year and healthcare’s future is unclear. The passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 set many changes in motion. And while some parts of the industry may be settling down, a shift in the political landscape could affect the healthcare landscape yet again.
One of the most significant trends influencing our industry today is pressure on the market to consolidate. Many independent hospitals and physicians’ practices are being bought up or merged into larger healthcare systems. This leads to a marketplace that will be represented by just a few key players with great power to move the industry, with an unknown downstream impact on the built environment. 
We’ve already seen the movement from a focus on acute care settings to outpatient and ambulatory care spaces. And moving forward, technology and a generation more accustomed to interaction through social media and mobile devices than in-person visits are likely to inspire more care being delivered virutally—and less of a need for traditional healthcare buildings.  
Given all of these competing pressures, the 10 trends we identified that are shaping our industry today and into the future include:
  • Quality, safety, and satisfaction. The spotlight on safety began more than 15 years ago when the Institute of Medicine published the report “Crossing the Quality Chasm,” revealing that close to 100,000 people died in healthcare institutions each year because of adverse events. That scrutiny has only intensified in recent years as that number continues to grow. In addition to quality and safety, patient experience and patient satisfaction are carrying more weight, leading to the creation of websites like Hospital Compare. These sites track indicators directly linked to the built environment, such as how quiet it was around the patient room at night or if patients perceived their rooms as always clean, and allows consumers to make more informed choices based on ratings. Collectively, these are key drivers of change in our industry, and the built environment offers a variety of solutions to positively influence these outcomes and indicators.
  • Healthcare costs and reimbursements. Creating a culture of accountability has resulted in a new care delivery model being created. Healthcare today is focusing more and more on the overall health of a population of patients rather than the volume of patients seen on a given day. More care is shifting to the ambulatory and outpatient setting as a way to reduce cost, and new incentives to accountability are in place by way of reimbursements. With the United States ranking last in overall healthcare quality but first in total expenditures among 11 developed nations studied by the Commonwealth Fund, understanding how the built environment can be leveraged to improve outcomes while reducing the cost of care becomes an important part of the solution.
  • Environmental safety and sustainability. The connection between the health of our environment and our individual health is becoming increasingly apparent. Despite its mission to improve the quality of health for individuals, healthcare as an industry has a negative impact on global health. It’s the second largest commercial energy user and the third highest water user, and it uses hazardous chemicals on a regular basis. Greater attention is now being given to understanding the makeup of the building products specified for healthcare facilities, and in making that information easy to find for healthcare and design professionals.  
Change in any industry is inevitable. In ours, it seems to not only be ever-present but a moving target, as well, making it difficult to confidently make decisions that have far-reaching and longstanding consequences. Keeping pace with the drivers that will influence both healthcare and design is the best insurance policy one can take out. Visit my blog at to read about the additional trends that we see shaping the industry’s next five years. 
Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at