Our nation’s healthcare workers have been at the forefront during the coronavirus pandemic, with hospitals and medical facilities jammed to capacity, facing shortages of critical supplies, and working in what might be the most high-risk environment possible. Through it all, healthcare facilities had to be among the quickest to react to changing conditions brought on by the pandemic.
This resulted in quick, innovative thinking out of necessity. Hospitals turned to new methods and locations to ensure there were enough beds and rooms to accommodate a sudden influx of patients afflicted with a highly contagious disease.
While it’s way too soon to know the pandemic’s long-term effects on the healthcare system, post-pandemic hospital and healthcare facility design has become a frequent topic of conversation. This could help hospitals be better equipped to handle the next mass-scale health crisis, and construction firms will play a key role in how the medical industry rethinks the built environment.
Future Hospital Design
In a recent American College of Healthcare Architects survey, professional healthcare designers were asked to weigh in on changes they expect to see in future design and construction of healthcare facilities.
Some of the key findings include:
- 82% of respondents expect to see more accommodations for remote healthcare services, known as telehealth.
- 69% of respondents said they anticipate hospitals to be built with more surge capacity.
- 43% said they expect increased adoption of prefabricated or modular elements to allow for greater flexibility.
More Flexibility Needed
Hospitals will need to be more flexible in the number of patients they can handle. For example, by being able to rapidly transform an ICU unit into a COVID-19 patient unit as some hospitals have done. To do so, it needs to be possible to easily cordon off certain areas of hospitals so as to mitigate the spread of an infectious disease. This requires, for instance, physically walling the areas off and beefed-up HVAC systems that can appropriately purify the air.
Modular design in hospital construction is also likely to see an uptick. Such design allows for custom-building spaces, including movable walls to adjust capacity and the ability to seal off areas from the rest of the hospital. Modular units also give hospitals the flexibility to devote the bulk of its space to a health crisis without having to curtail non-life-threatening surgeries or treatments. A modular wing of a hospital can remain open and treat patients receiving elective surgery without jeopardizing their health, safely cloistered off from the main hospital unit, even equipped with a completely separate ventilation system.
Changing Where Care is Delivered
Hospitals are designed differently than most buildings. Large elevators and wide hallways need to accommodate patients on hospital beds being moved around the facility. However, most weren’t designed to withstand such a rapid influx of patients as seen this year. This led to the construction of so-called alternative care facilities (ACFs), which helped ensure any patient who needed a bed or a ventilator could get them. Field hospitals were set up at various convention centers, playing fields, and even parking lots. Some of these sites included thousands of temporary beds and kitted out with medical equipment needed to treat patients.
The future of medical centers is likely to include so-called micro-hospitals. These smaller in scale emergency care facilities are designed for shorter stays to help patients avoid longer waits and are capable of providing the same level of care as larger hospitals.
These tiny hospital centers can already be found in 19 states. They’re actually seen as a potential solution to address the inequality around access to care we’ve witnessed during the pandemic. In addition to taking some pressure off of larger hospitals, given their modest stature, micro-hospitals can be quickly built according to an area’s specific needs, even in communities typically underserved by the hospital system.
Now that we’ve seen the effects a crisis of this scale and scope has on medical facilities, healthcare designers know what changes need to be implemented in their future projects to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed, saving lives in the process.