This year's annual Hospital Construction Survey finds health facilities professionals with a firmer grasp on their project development plans than at any time in the past five years.

Of course, when one thinks about the years characterized by a banking collapse, credit crunch, recession and a contentiously fought health care reform debate, it's not surprising that building conditions have been anything but unambiguous.

But signs of steady improvement can be gleaned by comparing some of our earlier reports against current conditions.

For instance, our 2010 Hospital Construction Survey, which was conducted in the fall of 2009, found that only 17 percent of capital budgets were used for new construction. In this year's survey, by contrast, respondents reported that 33 percent of 2013 capital budgets were dedicated to new construction. Similarly, 16 percent of capital budgets were used for renovations in 2009, while 32 percent was spent on modernizations last year.

What's more, the 2013 percentages are within a few points of actual numbers in 2012 and predictions for 2014, showing a certain degree of market stability after a period of wild see-sawing.

While the news is positive, future activity seems unlikely to match the pre-recession intensity. Indeed, many experts interviewed for this month's cover story commented on the deliberate caution hospitals are taking in their construction plans, as they wait for the financial ramifications of health care reform to take hold. It also appears that the scale of today's projects are much smaller than those started during the boom.

Whether this signals a temporary plateau or a new normal remains to be seen, but the industry at least has a clearer view of the direction forward.