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.

Darci Hernandez is a principal at Boulder Associates Architects and part of the healthcare design firm’s Orange County, Calif., leadership team. Here, she shares her thoughts on improving collaboration on project teams and why now is the time for the healthcare industry to be brainstorming on ways to improve water management.

1. California’s drought

Now in the 4th year of a statewide drought in California, things are not looking very good for residents. In April, Governor Jerry Brown ordered mandatory water use reductions. While Californians are faced with removing their lawn or letting it go brown, the healthcare industry also needs to be looking to reduce water usage. Facilities can start by conducting an audit of their current water usage. A few key strategies to consider include installing steam condensate temping systems on vacuum and gravity sterilizers, reducing excessive blowdown on cooling towers, and incorporating xeriscaping and drought-tolerant landscaping into the facility grounds. California’s water shortage is causing everyone to prioritize their water usage and improve water management, but this problem will not dissipate when the drought is over. We need to get smart about water.

2. Engaging patients and providers in hands-on design

Over the past few years, the design industry has started to engage patients and users in the design process. Our firm has found great success in facilitating 3P (people, preparation, process) events where patients and users work side-by-side with the design team to build full-scale cardboard mock-ups of their ideal clinic. Cardboard allows the project team to make changes to the set-up quickly and easily, enabling the user team to test, change, and perfect their operational flow. Receiving direct input from patients and providers allows us to design a building that truly fits their wants and needs—not what we think their needs are.

3. Collaborating is key to removing roadblocks

Similar to the healthcare sector, the architectural industry struggles with political and jurisdictional roadblocks that prevent our clients from achieving their ultimate goal: to provide better healthcare to the community. While the healthcare industry is slowly shifting to a culture of collaboration and quality, the architectural design and construction industries could take a few notes. Perhaps engaging the various entities in our clients’ goals and solutions would allow for some of the roadblocks to be removed, facilitating communication that could lead to process improvement and support the end result of improving healthcare and reducing costs for patients.

4. Improving health management

In America, where more people are dying from overdosing on prescribed medications than vehicular accidents, how do we manage necessary prescriptions and reduce the use of unnecessary ones while maintaining wellness? The healthcare industry is quick to prescribe medication, and when that does not work the response is to prescribe more medication. More focus on preventative health and behavioral health is required. The U.S. is in the midst of a cultural shift toward addressing, treating, and talking about health, including behavioral health, and when this occurs we’ll see improvement in health management.

5. Cost transparency in healthcare

When we go to a grocery store and pick up a carton of milk or get an oil change at the local car shop, we know how much the product or service will cost. In all other industries, costs are transparent. However, when it comes to the healthcare industry, patients are often left wondering how much they will pay for their care. As payers and providers begin to collaborate and share data with the common goal of lowering costs, the healthcare industry will need to shift to a culture of transparency. Organizations that are ahead of the curve are maintaining data and tracking metrics, but the real challenge is managing and analyzing it so that it’s informative. Knowledge and transparency will lower costs and success will occur when quality remains.

Darci Hernandez

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