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    Principals Roundtable: Is Health-Care Design the New Frontier?

    Beyonce's executive suite at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital.

    See members of Interior Design's Health Care and Wellness Advisory Council and read its mission statement.


    "Can we get Beyonce's room?" This may be the catchphrase derived from Interior Design's gathering of 20-plus health-care designers and executives during NeoCon yesterday at the Mart's IIDA space to discuss the market's explosive growth and increasing emphasis on health-care design. Designers from all over U.S., drawing on commissions as far flung as China, launched into enthusiastic conversation by agreeing that the health-care market has evolved from a specialty area into something that everyone wants—and needs—to be a part of. The Beyonce comment encapsulates a heightened focus on health care spaces, as well as an increase in options for treatment that have designers scrambling to meet new demands. Here's the discussion breakdown.

    #1 What will the future of health-care look like and how can we use it to create opportunity for design?

    A designer from Salsalito, CA, argued that the field should be thought of humanistically since wellness should exist not just in institutional health-care facilities but in retail, office and residential settings, harking back to the idea of preventative care and elevated quality of life. "Wellness is not just the absence of illness," she said. (To ensure a frank and open conversation about the high priority issues impacting the design industry, Interior Design and IIDA agreed not to identify attendees.)

    Designers seemed to agree that the opportunities and the need for specific, market-based knowledge have already arrived. One Texas-based designer noted that she'd even seen manufacturers relaunch existing product, such as carpet, as part of a "health-care" collection (not that helpful to designers such as as she who had already been using it that way, but a clear indication of dire need for these products in the market).

    Below: Interior Design president Mark Strauss, EIC Cindy Allen, and deputy editor Annie Block introducing the roundtable.


    #2 Reimbursements are still the driving force of change, but once clients opt for change, there are more choices than ever before.

    There was enthusiastic agreement that insurance reimbursements and the need to break even financially are still the driving factor for health-care facilities to make updates. Nothing provides motivation like the knowledge that a health-care facility's revenue will drop from two percent to negative fifteen percent if they continue with their outdated facilities. As one participant said, "Money saving is the biggest drive towards change."

    Once the change is in process, "Patients are now consumers," remarked one participant, "they have a choice about how they receive care. Patients have asked, 'Can I get Beyonce's room?' in the same way that hotel guests ask for celebrity suites." Therefore, institutions and the firms that design for them have to pay more attention to branding that will distinguish them from the competition, and consider how they can translate that branding into all sorts of environments.

    "I'd like to see clinics in a retail context, as as extension of brand and market penetration strategies," added one attendee, echoing a consensus that long-term care needs to trickle down to community based markets in order for them to be implemented more effectively.

    #3 The notion of community-based markets raised the question of whether smaller, ambulatory care spaces could be designed at the same level as larger health-care projects.

    One participant argued strongly that, in order to truly service the growing population of older adults, all spaces simply need to be designed as less chaotic and easier to navigate. "What we design today is the opposite of what we need today," she stated. Shiny floors are appealing because they are thought to signify cleanliness, yet they are not the ideal walking surface for anyone in poor health who might be worried about slipping. Although the floors look clean, what service are they truly providing in terms of wellness? This raised the topic of evidence-based design, which, as one attendee said, "has given health-care designers a leg to stand on in terms of needs versus wants."

    #4 Identifying a clear need for resources (consulting, post-occupancy, products) across the spectrum in health care.

    Evidence-based design begs the question of whether certain practices, like antimicrobial designations, truly service the intended goals of infection control. In order to make a case for or against antimicrobial materials, designers must have access to information which often does not exist. Thus, designers in health care rely on consultants by necessity more than other market segments, which means they are spending more time with clients during the planning phases, making their fees count for less. Yet firms that can provide services in house instead of through a consultant are sometimes seen as more competitive.

    In addition to the need for consultants, attendees identified the need for communication between EVS and cleaning services, who rarely use the systems recommended by manufacturers for cleaning, and instead apply the same toxic chemicals to everything from curtains to bed linens. When it comes to imperative cleaning, designers see a lack of connectivity between their clients' human resources and their facilities departments, and also an increasing demand for designers to participate in post-occupancy by writing the standards for operation, adding another drain to their fee. The bottom line is, there are a lot of holes in health care, including product demands by innovative clients like millennials asking for "healthy" work spaces. What further call to action does the industry need?

    This roundtable was sponsored by Mannington Commercial, HermanMiller Healthcare, Rocky Mountain Hardware, Interface and Lamin-Art.

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