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Healthcare Design – 2022 and Beyond

National Business Furniture
National Business Furniture

As we enter 2022, the practice of healthcare design remains a dynamic and challenging one. As designers, we have been working hard to respond to complex, changing needs while managing stalled project timelines and navigating supply chain and labor challenges. It is clear that we don’t have a crystal ball, or certainty on what will happen to our industry next. I recall naively thinking “this will all blow over in a few weeks” in March 2020, and here we are almost two years later! So, where do we go from here? What can we look forward to in 2022 and beyond?

The Importance of Caring for the Caregivers

One of the major challenges facing the healthcare industry is staffing — caregivers have taken the brunt of the pandemic stresses for two years and are burning out and leaving direct patient care. Health systems have been forced to limit non-emergent procedures, limit admissions and in some cases, consolidate facilities because there are not enough staff to provide patient care. The consequence is lost revenue, increased costs due to reliance on travel nurses and a detrimental impact on overall patient outcomes. The healthcare design industry cannot solve such a complex problem alone, but we can be part of the solution.

It’s proven that the built environment can have a positive impact on patient outcomes — I believe that the same can apply to staff spaces. Too often caregiver respite areas are afterthoughts, relegated to cramped, windowless spaces with few amenities. As we move forward, we need to work with our clients to make these environments reflective of the value that these critical employees bring, and ensure that they are truly places to rest, recharge and connect with colleagues. That might mean access to outdoor space, comfortable lounge seating or private areas to rest during a long shift.

Efficiency is Key

An upgraded staff lounge is no good if the workers don’t have time to actually use the facilities! The design community can’t change increased caregiver workloads, but we can work closely with staff on process improvements. Some studies indicate that up to 40% of clinical office work is redundant or wasted effort (ihi.org), so we can make this a focus of our design programming. Work closely with clinical employees to determine where current bottlenecks are and where steps are wasted. Some potential time savers can be: decentralizing critical supplies to reduce back & forth travel, using automation and technology to eliminate manual processes and standardizing rooms and equipment.

Implementing standard designs and furniture in patient spaces can help ensure uniform and consistent processes. Reducing room variations can save staff time looking for needed items during a patient visit and potentially allow any provider to use any room during busy times. Standardizing furniture, surface materials and equipment can have the added benefit of saving time for maintenance staff and environmental services as well.

Flexibility Isn’t Optional

The past two years have shown us that the move toward resilient and flexible healthcare spaces is increasingly important. We’ve seen clinic spaces transformed into vaccination centers, hospital units moved to COVID wards and in an extreme case, a parking deck used as overflow care space. It is evident that healthcare design needs to continue to push boundaries as to what is possible as we prepare for post-COVID and potential future pandemics.

Many of these changes will take place at the architectural level, like improved HVAC, using UVC lighting and the ability to more effectively isolate infectious patients. From a design perspective, we can plan interior spaces that promote teamwork and coordination of care among staff and help patients communicate with family by including screens and technology that allow remote communication.

The New Waiting Room

From a patient and family perspective, one of the biggest changes to healthcare facilities during the pandemic is the waiting area. Some healthcare facilities have eliminated them altogether, opting for a self-rooming model. Most others have removed much of the existing seating, in an effort to provide safe distancing between patients. The former practice of packing waiting rooms as densely as possible with rows of bus-station like seating is a thing of the past.

There will always need to be patient and family friendly waiting areas — as designers, I think we can take lessons learned from COVID and make these spaces welcoming and safe for all. Studies show that patients prefer seats with a direct line of sight to either the reception desk or doorway to treatment spaces (or both). Patients want to ensure they aren’t “forgotten” and those with visual or auditory limitations want to ensure they aren’t missed. Create smaller groupings of varied types of seating rather than long rows of chairs — this ensures that everyone can be accommodated safely and allows privacy for families that may want to discuss health issues.

If space permits, designate “sick” and “well” waiting areas where those coming in for routine care are separated from potentially infectious patients. This design strategy has been used very effectively in pediatric practices. Using wider seats — like benches, loveseats or bariatric chairs can help in creative distance between patients while offering a safe place for larger users.

Innovative Materials

One of the many challenges facilities faced during the pandemic was degradation of surface materials due to increased cleaning protocols. It’s more important than ever to strategically choose materials in healthcare spaces. Manufacturers are working hard to bring innovative materials to the design community that will withstand harsh disinfectants while still being safe for users. The choices are overwhelming — how can we select the right material that performs well, while still meeting our aesthetic goals?

The DCF (Durable Coated Fabrics) Task Group is an interdisciplinary team of designers, textile suppliers and furniture manufacturers that has been working on this challenge since 2017. They publish ongoing updates, recommendations and research on materials that have been tested in healthcare settings. By reviewing their recommended performance standards and CFFA (Chemical Fabrics and Films Association) certified products, you will find a group of materials that has been tested thoroughly in health environments.

The past two years have been challenging ones for the healthcare design community but have taught us many valuable lessons that we can use to create more effective spaces for patients and caregivers. There is no way to predict exactly what 2022 (and beyond) may hold, but we have a strong community of passionate designers dedicated to delivering beautiful, safe and efficient healthcare spaces. I am excited to see where the future takes us! To learn more about selecting the right furnishings for your facility, visit https://www.nationalbusinessfurniture.com/healthcare-furniture

Joanna Terry, director of Vertical Markets at National Business Furniture is an experienced healthcare and design professional with more than 20 years in the contract furniture industry.



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