In this series, Healthcare Design asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what’s got their attention and share some ideas on the subject.

Tom Chessum is a principal at CO Architects (Los Angeles) with a focus on healthcare architecture. Here, he shares his thoughts on why the industry needs to rethink clinical work environments, the importance of building in community on the healthcare campus, and why partnering with non-traditional disciplines can spark innovation.

1. New planning for clinical care workplace

The interprofessional and team-based methods that are now being practiced in the medical and health science schools are influencing a generation of practitioners and leaders who are emerging as decision makers about improving future healthcare environments. Borrowing and promoting the same methods in the clinical workplace involves providing personal, group, social, and amenity spaces and functions that are conducive to those collaborative and interactive practices, while respecting the necessities of the inpatient and outpatient clinical world. This change is necessary if there’s to be continued progress in revolutionizing the clinical care environment beyond the patient-centered, evidence-based, and sustainable design efforts achieved so far.

2. The power of IT

In even the most information systems and technology adroit healthcare organizations, easy and fast access still doesn’t seem to be ubiquitous enough to satisfy the electronic medical records (EMR) or physician order entry (POE) needs of the providers due to patient privacy and systems security concerns.  Mobile device or private office access or even bedside access that integrates streams of information or controls gets complicated, untimely, and limited. Solutions are sure to come and could offer a greater transformation in patient care, education, and efficiency than already recognized.

3. Making community campuses

Planning the larger healthcare campus, especially with the academic medical center, is increasingly an opportunity to also build a community experience of mutually beneficial participants. The 24/7 life that results from the inclusion of amenities, such as food, retail services, recreation, healthy living opportunities, and housing, becomes an asset that attracts and retains not only the patient and family, but the healthcare provider as well. Several educational institutions offer on-campus housing for retired faculty or alumni—inclusive of independent or dependent living opportunities coupled with the advantages of adjacent inpatient and outpatient services. As a result, the healthcare campus gains the richness of a community neighborhood from the services supported by both the care provider’s work/life needs and the campus’ population.

4. Transdisciplinary agents of change

Drawing non-traditional disciplines, such as engineering, informatics, or even law, into the healthcare world through avenues such as medical research partnerships or clinical care itself offers opportunities for innovation. The culture of healthcare is by necessity conservative, protocol driven, and even resistant to change, while these external cultures are more dependent on and open to innovation. Ultimately, transformations in how healthcare is delivered involve the rigorous vetting of the changes to the operational and physical built environment. The experience gained through an integration of transdisciplinary thought and practice can be the foundation of a self-improvement process.

5. Millennials are shaping the healthcare environment

Millennials represent the largest share of the U.S. labor market and they are increasingly assuming leadership roles in today’s organizations. Besides a reputation for placing personal values ahead of organizational values, the millennial has been pegged as being motivated by people-focused, ethical, and society-focused issue relevance, work/life balance, and a team-based approach to long-term success. Tapping into this mindset as a part of the staff recruitment and retention equation requires a physical environment that clearly manifests the organization’s mission, vision, and values.  This “walking the talk” in the form of embedded spatial and functional amenities and/or resources that provide a real impact on daily work-life validates an organization’s values as being worthy of commitment.

Want to share your Top 5? Contact senior editor Anne DiNardo at for submission instructions.