Q&A: The Importance of Adaptive Healthcare Design

Because of the ever-changing nature of the healthcare industry, rapidly advancing medical technology, and shifts in the ways hospitals and clinics function, it is more important than ever for healthcare facilities to be designed for adaptability. Krista McDonald Biason, Senior Electrical Engineer at HGA, shares insight into how engineers, planners, and designers can ensure spaces remain flexible to support the shifting healthcare environment.

You have worked in electrical healthcare engineering and design for 25 years. How have you seen the healthcare industry change during that time?

A clinic is not just a clinic anymore and a hospital doesn’t always contain the same modalities that it did “back in the day.” There are so many different functions, services, and options for delivery of care that each healthcare facility has the ability to offer these days. As engineers, designers, and planners, we must be able to adapt to that change. Specifically, we are seeing facilities offer more outpatient or single-day services. While all of the applicable codes for these types of occupancies may not be as stringent, the concerns for patient safety and building maintainability are still there. Just how we design a hospital with the resiliency it needs, offices and other types of medical facilities should also consider resiliency and redundancy for their systems and design. Even as recent as 10 years ago, we did not think about design in that way.

What does adaptable healthcare design mean to you?

Adaptable healthcare design means creating a modular and flexible infrastructure that can support facility changes and growth. For example, if a floor needs to change function, it should be able to do so with minimal disruption to other parts of the facility without requiring a complete replacement of the main engineering equipment and systems.

How important is adaptable healthcare design in your role?

Extremely important. As engineers, we know that after we leave a facility, there are bound to be changes made and someone has to maintain those systems. For example, a room’s function may need to change or a new physician may come in with a new procedure or process which may have different infrastructure needs. It is my job to ensure a space is not so limited that it cannot address multiple functions, and that it is flexible enough to accommodate future changes.

What strategies do you use to ensure adaptability in your healthcare design projects?

With careful planning and by thinking two steps ahead, we don’t prohibit the facility from making a change that allows them to better serve their patients. We consider current needs, but try to anticipate future changes and demands. Oftentimes, this means going beyond code minimum in order to save the facility time and money in the future. It is always a balance between current needs, balancing budgets, and maintainability of systems. The key is to work with the owner and the project teams to assure that those goals are aligned.

This interview originally appeared in ASHE/PDC.