4 Things to Watch in Outpatient Care

By Ryan Heeter

Construction in the healthcare market, as in just about every other, has been significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, project delays and interruptions, shortages of construction materials from abroad, compromised workforces and worksite restrictions are only the tip of the iceberg.

Over the course of the health crisis, our team has met regularly with owners who are seriously speculating what the future holds. Here are several of the ideas being debated regarding what the late/post-COVID “new normal” may look like – especially for outpatient settings.

More exam rooms are being built

Facility owners are considering new designs and building strategies based on the health crisis that consider additional contagion and safety protocols, which significantly influence future healthcare construction projects.

For instance, in order to reduce the exposure of patients to each other as they wait to see their doctors, designers are exploring the idea of reducing the size of traditional reception areas in favor of more individual exam rooms.

Telemedicine and the doctor’s office

Telemedicine is an area that took off during the pandemic for obvious reasons. Now we’re seeing how it may be employed within the medical suite to create additional opportunities for in-person contact that serves the patient better. For instance, AV and communications systems can be set up so that medical staff and patients can better interact between locations within an office. Nurses or assistants would be able to screen and collect information from patients remotely before the doctor enters the room for the formal consultation.

Also, telemedicine, combined with other technologies like wearable tracking devices, will likely generate more diagnoses that will encourage people to visit their doctor in person more often for consultations. This increase in volume could significantly drive more healthcare design and construction for existing and new facilities.

Prefab solutions, repeatable structure solutions getting more attention

We saw prefab solutions, which are becoming an increasingly more common way to bring facilities online quickly and efficiently, take off during the COVID-19 pandemic with drive-through virus testing and vaccination facilities. Shipping containers retrofitted as exam areas with adjacent workstations and communications hubs sprung up throughout the San Francisco, California Bay Area region (as well as other parts of the country). We’re hearing that this trend is being considered for wider use in more creative applications.

Repeatable structures are another nod to the call for flexibility, speed and efficiency in healthcare construction. Large healthcare organizations that build many MOBs are looking for template designs that can work across different geographies. They will then hire local expertise to finish off individual buildings to suit their environment. This resembles a modular approach, but is really more of a repeatable prototype design that improves the efficiency of the project delivery process, as well as operations and maintenance with greater standardization for facilities management.

Increasing call for behavioral, mental health facilities

The stress of the pandemic on the mental health of individuals has been widely reported. This, in addition to the general public outcry to provide dignified healthcare for those with mental health conditions – instead of incarcerating them – has put a focus on creating more behavioral health facilities. These facilities are being heralded as more efficient uses of tax dollars and we are now seeing instances of where funds for this healthcare sub-market are often being appropriated before those for new prison projects. We expect this pattern will continue to accelerate in the coming years.

Come what may, collaboration is key

Any time you add a stressor like a pandemic to an industry, there’s always going to be a little bit of contraction. Even as we begin to come out of the pandemic, owners are still skeptical about what the future holds. Over the course of the health crisis, we saw new projects come out, but they weren’t the larger scale projects or “ground-up” hospitals we had been seeing prior to the pandemic. Rather, the industry has been focused on delivering what it needs today to simply keep its operations running.

While this may seem to make sense under prior circumstances, owners should reflect carefully about their long-term needs. To accomplish this, we see many healthcare clients moving toward Integrated Project Delivery, where team members (architects, engineers, contractors and trade contractors) are all brought on early in the process — often at the design stage. In addition to the benefits collaboration brings to projects, this creates a shared risk/reward pool that drives all participants to take a “project first” approach. As a result, decisions are made to benefit the project, which ultimately financially benefits all team members, instead of each group making decisions that only benefits their own interests.

Healthcare facilities being designed today, and for years to come, will reflect changes driven by new approaches taken during the pandemic, as well as telemedicine, population growth and increased regulatory trends. Projects that reflect lessons learned and that are approached collaboratively will not only become more resilient to pandemics but be better equipped to handle all manner of emergencies, raising the bar for the quality of healthcare in general.

Author: Ryan Heeter
Ryan Heeter is senior VP, Healthcare, at XL Construction.

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Posted November 15, 2021

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