Four highlights from healthcare design and construction symposium

Healthcare has radically changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Vanderbilt School of Engineering’s Annual Healthcare Design & Construction Symposium addressed several changes currently happening.

By Mark Chrisman and Greg Johnson September 10, 2020

Longtime sponsor of the Vanderbilt School of Engineering’s Annual Healthcare Design & Construction Symposium, Henderson Engineers continued its participation during the conference on Aug. 5-6. Although unique in its virtual delivery this year due to the pandemic, the event was packed with industry experts and valuable information discussing the common theme of “Building a resilient path to the future.” Takeaways in four categories are highlighted.

1. COVID-19 effects and responses

Healthcare systems can effectively manage projects remotely and will not require as much space within hospitals in the future, especially for administrative and non-clinical roles. Some systems have even canceled leases that were planned for additional support staff near or around the system hospitals.

As for COVID-19, most systems are taking a three-tiered approach to address infection control measures — short term, midterm (2-3 months), and long-term planning. Most systems have already implemented short-term modifications such as reducing waiting space, creating additional negative isolation rooms, or implementing telehealth and other technologies. We are now seeing an uptick in considering longer-term solutions that may involve renovation or infrastructure upgrades knowing that COVID-19 may be impacting health systems for the foreseeable future.

Caregivers and other healthcare staff members are suffering from burnout as the current environment is taking a toll on them. Most healthcare facilities lack the appropriate space for staff to take a break or rest, which is adding to the already heavy mental load.

Routine care, screenings, and treatment for chronic conditions have not been occurring at the frequency they were pre-pandemic. Health systems are trying to prepare themselves for the additional treatment and care that will be required to address these untreated or undiagnosed issues.

2. Financial performance challenges

Financial performance and strain are currently an issue for many health systems. Most are losing money — even though it appears to be a short-term problem — and this is affecting construction projects in the form of delays and even cancellations. There are pressures from dwindling reimbursements and new competition from retailers and vertically integrated payer/providers. Some providers are unlocking capital assets by selling their bricks and mortar to private equity firms.

3. Telehealth growth

Telehealth has been on everyone’s minds recently, and rightly so. Most systems had planned to grow this channel and COVID-19 accelerated timelines, which turned out to be one of the few benefits emerging from this pandemic. Kaiser Permanente stated they are seeing a 50% conversion to telehealth, to date. Telehealth has proved to be effective for patients, but health systems are still struggling to have an organized approach. It is hard for providers, and it’s uncertain how it will affect doctors and nurses’ abilities to do their jobs while remaining content. Also, the systems workforce needs to be retooled with less support staff and more IT staff in the workplace. There are also concerns about connectivity for patients — such as available internet and video capabilities — as well as use of technology that may not be consistent across all medical groups that a person may need to connect with, including hospitals, primary care physicians, specialists, and pharmacies.

4. Healthcare of the future

Going forward, healthcare will be more enabled by technology enabled with digital records known as digital twin, telehealth, just-in-time healthcare, patient routing, and robotics for surgery, nursing, prescriptions delivered to patient rooms.

Redefining “sites of care” strategies were addressed. Where patients will be seen, home care, primary care, specialty care, and ambulatory versus acute care facilities are being redefined. Basically, more patients will be pushed away from acute care facilities for ease of care and comfort.

There was a lot of discussion on delivery methods for projects. Most discussions revolved around the use of design-build or integrated project delivery as being a preferred method due to schedule, collaboration, and cost.

This article originally appeared on Henderson Engineers’ websiteHenderson Engineers is a CFE Media content partner. 

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Author Bio: Mark Chrisman, healthcare practice director | vice president; Greg Johnson, director of business development, Henderson Engineers