The rapid adoption of technology and new practices during COVID-19 has aided in the advancement of necessary transformation in clinical care. To match this level of innovation, health care facilities must catch up to the new models of technology interfaces. 

However, the misalignment of technology and facility spaces will cause greater fissures in staffing operations and, ultimately, performance. To succeed in the future of health facility planning, building environments must support the integration of technological advancements to pull previously siloed areas together to improve patient outcomes and increase team integration. 

The following evidence provides insight for planning teams to lead future conversations and challenge the status quo by creating buildings for the future. Three key areas will be present in the new frontier to become fully integrated and set up for the future:

1. Shifting spaces to “fluid” use to improve performance. The pandemic has taught us that all space in a health care environment is valuable. Historically, designers plan for flexibility and universal use of rooms. As we embrace rapid change into the future, spaces need to be designed for “fluid” use. The difference is that flexible spaces flex from one to another; “fluid” spaces assume the system is dynamic and do not limit the organization’s ability to fully shift its designation to accommodate its needs. Dynamic shifts in the field require that all occupants must be accommodated, going beyond flexibility and allowing for rapid change to multiple systems, services and uses. With continual supply chain shortages and increasing cost of constructing new buildings, existing spaces will be looked at with greater scrutiny for their contribution to the bottom line. 

2. Integrated technology and customized care delivery focused on the patient. Customized precision medical care is the future of clinical care; the days of patients waiting for symptoms to present to visit their doctor will be a thing of the past. Patients receive same-day diagnosis and treatment plans customized to them based on their genetics, using a preemptive-based care model. 

This may seem like science fiction but, as noted by the National Institutes of Health, this genomic approach to care is already integrated into specialties such as oncology and rare and infectious diseases. Going forward, more specialty clinics will have a genomic approach requiring integrated lab, radiology or other diagnostic services within the care space, allowing for custom care practices.

As diagnostic technology aids in providing rapid, real-time information for personalized care, departments will expand so that patients can seamlessly move from a clinical appointment to diagnostics and to a procedure all within the same department. 

In terms of operations, radiology will no longer be its own department; it will exist in operating rooms, emergency departments, specialty clinics and infusion centers. Facilities will see radiology embedded into other departments, further collapsing the silos and ensuring there is a seamless shift from diagnosis to treatment for both patients and clinicians.

3. Amplifying staff amid workforce decline. We have now entered a new generation of health care staffing environments. Optimizing staff performance through the lens of reducing cost and improving outcomes for the environment will be critical to accomplishing this goal. Two key areas are needed to achieve optimal performance: increased visibility and integrated technology in team spaces.

As acuity increases, staffing decreases and coordination is essential for the placement of work areas. Their visibility to acute or non-acute care settings will be crucial for ensuring staff can work at the top of their license. Using evidence-based tools, such as space syntax maps, ideal placement for care teamwork areas can be determined that are highly connected for increased visibility. Hybrid or decentralized work areas with direct visibility into all care spaces can aid in achieving optimal results by locating staff and supplies closer to the patient.

Artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled and virtual decision-making allows for expedited outcomes ranging from processing to interpreting results to virtual consults and beyond. AI will continue to be a critical interface in radiology for predictive analytics, and virtual consults will be pivotal for providing specialty care to facilities that exist in rural areas, or when a full-time provider is unable to be on-site. To align with this change, team care spaces will be more attuned to a cockpit or command center style to ensure that information can be seen and integrated instantaneously.  

By creating “fluid” spaces, embedding technology and amplifying staff, health care systems will create innovative advancements and infuse a mindset of positive change into the organization. With these considerations in place, the environment will be set up for rapid changes to occur and remain competitive in an ever-changing market.