The August issue of Healthcare Design includes sizable features on sports medicine and academic medical centers (AMCs). It seemed like a strange pairing to me, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Do these facilities have anything in common? You bet they do.
Many sports medicine programs are taking what had been a siloed service, typically just orthopedics and maybe rehab, and embracing nutrition, research, psychology, and even technology and industry (with devices such as Fitbit and other innovations). What used to be segmented is now more collaborative, which will surely lead to better outcomes and a more multidisciplinary, inclusive environment for care providers, from the top orthopedic surgeons to the physical therapists and others.
At the same time, AMCs have also been innovators at breaking down the silos between disciplines—a good example is the interventional platforms that have brought surgery and imaging together. But as the example of sports medicine suggests, do we need to go beyond that? As AMCs transition to caring for the “whole person,” departments like nutrition and psychology, and even industry and technology, can’t be relegated to a back corridor in the oldest building in the hospital.
But if sports medicine is taking us to new frontiers of inclusiveness, it can still learn much from academic medical centers. AMCs are 24/7 facilities—can sports facilities be 24/7, as well? How can sports medicine be integrated with ballparks, community centers, neighborhoods, restaurants, and retail? Can they adopt the research and innovation mindset of AMCs and industry? Can they encourage physical activity in the community, beyond the immediate patients they serve?
And both institutions emphasize performance. Athletes, of course, understand the importance of exercise in enabling their bodies to perform at their peak; however, research also shows us that exercise also activates thinking and enables the brain to perform at its peak. For sports medicine and AMCs alike, we need to design environments for health and exercise, in order to achieve high performance of both mind and body.
So there are links of learning between AMCs and sports medicine, and it goes both ways. Likewise, because healthcare is changing so fast, we as designers need to get out of our own silos and embrace other industries, other thinking, other forms of creativity, and other forms of research—industrial design, biology, chemistry, analytics, and more. That could take the form of partnering with tech and health-tech startups, founding fellowships with psychologists and other researchers, working with experts in big data to test design and planning scenarios, incorporating the insights of other design disciplines such as education and the workplace, and more.
If we want to mirror our top clients, those who are healing the whole person and not just one part, we have to be as multidisciplinary as we’re asking them to be. We have to bust down our own silos, too.
Joan Saba, FAIA, FACHA, is a partner of global architecture and design firm NBBJ (New York). She is a regent and founding fellow of the American College of Healthcare Architects as well as a fellow of the American Institute of Architects. She can be reached at