Designing for the Intended Purpose in Dental Offices and Healthcare
I had dinner the other evening with some clients. We’d just recently finished another project for them and we were celebrating it with a wonderful evening of laughing over good food and wine. Of course, throughout the evening, the conversation would often drift to design related issues. She works for a hospital group and has recently taken on a new role at a start-up facility. She was relating how no one at the new property is happy with their new building. While the front of house is quite beautiful, nothing in the back-of-house seems to be located where it should be and is creating tremendous inefficiencies for the nurses, doctors, and administrators, alike. For example, overhead lighting is not centered over examination areas and built-in workstations are located too close to equipment to be functional.
Part of the problem with this hospital could very well be that its purpose has changed three times during the five years that it was under construction. The facility started its life being planned as purely a suburban outpatient hospital. Then it was upgraded to be a full-service, 300 bed hospital. With all of the turmoil in the economy and uncertainty in healthcare, the current mission for the facility is one of a limited, service 100 bed facility. My suspicion is that during all of these changes, the design staff was not given proper direction or authorization to make all of the design changes that would be necessary to fully incorporate the changing mission into the design. The end results are rooms that are not truly designed to reflect their intended purpose and thus are merely aggravating to everyone trying to use them.
General purpose design can work okay in offices but rarely works well in dental or other healthcare related facilities. The needs of operatories, labs, sterilization rooms and the like are so specialized that the facility needs to be designed with the interactions between staff, equipment, and patients in mind. This is the only way to make certain that things work together seamlessly and efficiently. Additionally, due to the demands of regulations such as ADA, HIPAA, and OSHA, dental and other healthcare design must be especially mindful that these regulations are incorporated into the design to assist in compliance.
Another “mistake” that I see made in existing facilities is changing the role of rooms to reflect changing needs in the healthcare practice without consulting a design expert. The repurposed room often fails to meet regulations, provides poor lighting, or creates awkward traffic flow that reduces productivity. While bringing one’s designer in to consult on “little moves” may increase the cost of the project slightly, it will be more than made up for in improved productivity and efficiencies after the change.