Creating a Clinic: Considerations in Healthcare Design

No two health clinics are the same, all serving different populations and ranging vastly in size and function. With this in mind, designers and clinic staff have many considerations to make before launching into a renovation or new build. Here are some of the BWBR team’s thoughts on what goes into planning a clinic and some questions to consider throughout the design process.

Trends in Telehealth

Although healthcare has always been at the forefront of technology, the pandemic made telehealth more widespread in clinics — and in many cases, a necessity. Today, providers continue to conduct consultations and visits with patients remotely, increasing access to care for patients in rural areas, patients with limited physical mobility, patients without transportation, and more. Telehealth also provides the opportunity to connect with specialists located across the country. This means thinking through where providers will be making those calls.

Some clinics may opt to designate rooms with enhanced lighting and acoustics to optimize video and sound quality, ideally in a quiet area to avoid background noise. For other clinics, the best choice for maximizing space and budget is incorporating technology (like television screens) into exam rooms, making them multi-functional for both remote and in-person visits. Other providers might prefer to take telehealth calls in private focus rooms.

Enhancing Efficiency

The use of technology to facilitate the patient check-in process is another consideration for clinics, with some utilizing digital check-in kiosks. These kiosks are often used for self-rooming, allowing patients to receive automatic room assignments and direct themselves without staff assistance. Although kiosks may not be a fit for all clinics, some find they improve efficiency for both staff and patients while eliminating the need for large lobby areas. With this strategy, extra space can be utilized for additional exam rooms or staff areas.

If a traditional reception is preferred, it’s important to consider the choice between a centralized registration desk or departmental check-in stations. While a centralized registration can simplify the patient experience, departmental stations may be better suited for a busy or expanding clinic. Either way, thoughtful planning of the placement of high-traffic areas makes a big impact on wait times, organization, and overall efficiency.

Going With the Flow

Along with reception desks, the location and number of access points in a clinic keep foot traffic moving smoothly. Strategically planned, secure entrances and exits for patients and staff provide the foundation for security and streamlined flow.

A traditional clinic layout prioritizes provider privacy and creates a simple, one-way flow path for patients, making it seamless to move through the clinic. Although a connected floor plan reduces provider privacy, it allows for a mix of private and team staff workspaces and offers easier access to patient spaces. The best layout for a given clinic will vary based on facility size, patient volume, and preferred workflow of staff, and is why a design team who digs deep to understand the true needs and provide a custom solution is so important.

A Team Approach

A team-based care model has been appearing in select clinics, as patients oftentimes work with multiple healthcare professionals, particularly when specialized providers are involved. With a team-based model, these different providers communicate and collaborate with one another, but the specifics can vary widely among healthcare systems, as can the impact on their infrastructure. Clinics should consider how their teams currently work together and if opportunities for collaboration are wanted in the future.

These considerations will impact decisions like whether private provider offices are the best fit for the staff compared to shared, open offices. Other staff spaces, like team areas, meeting rooms, or individual focus rooms are also dependent on the function of teams in a clinic and what work style suits the staff best.

Space for Specialties

Doctors administering specialty care and procedures often require different tools and technology than those providing primary care. Because of this, it’s crucial to consider what types of treatment will be offered in a clinic, as rooms designated for specialties like ENT, OBGYN, or behavioral care may need extra space to fit unique equipment or optimize the patient experience. While an OBGYN exam room could benefit from a private bathroom, a room used for ENT may need a reclining chair rather than a traditional exam table. If rooms need to flex between uses day-to-day — or even hour-to-hour — storage capacity, space for equipment to move in and out, proximity to diagnostic or lab areas, and flexibility of furniture are all important considerations.

There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to clinic design, but thinking ahead to what features make a clinic and its staff unique helps designers create a plan that reflects its needs.

Coming to Consensus: How BWBR Designers Approach Building a Common Vision

You’ve heard the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the broth.” Do too many stakeholders in the planning room spoil the design? That depends on how you approach the challenge.

For this episode of our Side of Design podcast, host Matt Gerstner sat down with Principal Stephanie McDaniel, AIA, LEED® AP, as well as Senior Project Planner Nate Roisen, AIA. The topic: consensus building.

First off, what is consensus building? Stephanie explains it as a way to build agreement on a direction. Doing so is “not all rainbows and unicorns,” she says. “In an effort to build consensus, it’s really important that we dive into all the hard stuff, ask the hard questions, share multiple options, and really make sure that we’re embracing and building consensus early and thoroughly.”

Nate emphasizes the need for a common vision, which is not always easy when you have lots of stakeholders and people responsible for creating a final design. “In order to gather everybody around a single endpoint, that idea of vision is something that is just incredibly important to establish upfront,” he says.

Building the Foundation

A lot of passion, energy, and strong opinions go into designs. It’s understandable that things could get tricky when balancing all the client’s wishes with realities like budget and building codes. Nate says that one key is to develop multiple options. “For me, it’s about doing the work of showing everyone that we’ve really investigated a number of different ways of going at a particular issue, problem, or solution.” That means not just brainstorming, but also testing and reconfiguring — all before attempting to finalize with the client.

In other words, you don’t simply show up with one idea and hope that everyone agrees. The team works to make sure that everyone involved can trust that the designers have done their homework before bringing options to the table. That helps make it easier to coalesce around an idea and address challenges. It’s common for a stakeholder to suggest an idea that may not be suitable, but when trust has been established, the BWBR team can say “I see what you’re saying, but we explored that option and here’s why it’s not the optimal approach.”

Of course, as Nate points out, “Building that level of trust can only happen if we are really, truly doing our homework behind the scenes — and we are.”

While multiple choices are optimal, sometimes there’s really only one viable option. Still, Nate emphasizes the importance of making sure all parties understand why other alternatives don’t work. And it’s still important to come up with variations and make sure the designers aren’t overlooking an important perspective.

Amplifying All Voices

Digging in further to how we work to fully understand the client perspective, Matt asked how the team makes sure that varying viewpoints are heard and considered in these planning meetings. “That’s a great question, and it relates closely to our equity work,” says Stephanie. She explains that it comes down to listening intently, understanding the power dynamics in the room, and making sure that if voices are missing, BWBR brings them into the conversation.

The stakes are high. “The consequences of not hearing every voice can be really detrimental to a project,” she says. “There could be a mistake because a viewpoint has been missed. If we catch it later on in the design process, that means backtracking, which creates extra work for everyone involved.”

To make sure all perspectives are heard early on in the process, Stephanie says the BWBR team will often establish ground rules so everyone understands how to create a psychologically safe space for the conversation. That also involves the individuals on the BWBR team practicing self-awareness and actively avoiding any individual biases.

Equity work at BWBR has been integral to the success of consensus building, with Nate noting the clear advantages that come from incorporating a diverse range of viewpoints.

Creating Buy-In

A clear upside of consensus building is that it facilitates buy-in from all parties. That means that everyone feels heard and is committed to the vision. Not only does this make the entire process go more smoothly, but it also creates a shared sense of enthusiasm for a project that is an exciting part of design.

Even if everyone’s first choice was not incorporated into the final design, the consensus building process helps make sure that all parties at least understand why the decisions were made. “Buildings are inherently very complex,” says Nate. “There are so many considerations, including building codes, constructability, cost, performance, beauty. Being clear on the ‘why’ behind decisions means you’re more likely to agree with those decisions.”

Both Nate and Stephanie point out that empathy is an important part of consensus building and creating buy-in. It can be frustrating when your idea isn’t chosen, and practicing empathy along with clear and honest communication can go a long way toward improving the experience.

A Consensus-Building Caveat

To be clear, consensus building doesn’t mean a fully democratic approach. As Stephanie says, “democracy does not yield good design.”

Nate recalls a scenario where a key member of an organization was unable to attend a meeting to select a design concept. Although those in attendance came to a consensus, the team was nervous when it came time to present the options to the leader. “We developed an idea of what people wanted in that first meeting, and it would have caused a few problems if the leader had chosen something completely at odds,” he explains.

When the leader chose the idea the others had selected, there was a sigh of relief from the design team, but the client wondered if the quick consensus was a negative — a sign of groupthink. “It was a really powerful example because you can have consensus that’s rooted in something that is unhealthy, which is, ‘This is what I think my boss is going to like,’” says Nate.

The two also point out that while it’s important to hear all viewpoints and take them into consideration, the truth is that not every idea can — or should — be included. Elements like building codes and, often, budgets, are immobile.

The trick — and it’s as much art as it is science — is to listen with the intent to truly understand, invite and amplify all voices and perspectives, and facilitate a productive discussion that fits those myriad lenses within the constraints of the project. It’s a true skill, and one built over time and experience.

As always, this recap barely scratches the surface of the vibrant conversation. You aren’t going to want to miss this one, so don’t forget to listen to the full podcast for more thoughtful insights.

Trend Report: 2023 Design Days and NeoCon

The annual Design Days and NeoCon gatherings always provide a unique glimpse into the future for designers, showcasing new trends and innovations in the industry, and last month’s events were no exception. This year marked a departure from the traditional setting at The Merchandise Mart in Chicago, with an increasing number of manufacturers moving to the vibrant Fulton Market area. With this shift, designers adapted their approach to the events and split their time between the two locations, creating an inspiring and diverse experience.

Although the displays were spread out in 2023, emerging trends were clear throughout the two locations. From colors and materials to themes and values, similarities stood out between showrooms, indicating design evolutions to keep an eye on as the year progresses.

Drawing from Nature

There was a clear departure from the saturated jewel tones seen in previous years. Instead, designers embraced bright, natural, and airy themes. Monochrome and white palettes became the popular choice alongside earth tones, including desert-inspired hues and warm woods. Aligning with the overall trend of light and fresh environments, textures took precedence over large patterns. A bit of a surprise among the minimalistic themes, however — purples showed up frequently, particularly mauve, along with clay and pink tones.

Matte black finishes remained a favorite, providing a versatile base for various design elements, while smoked glass and natural materials like stone gained prominence, adding a touch of elegance and connection to nature.

Flexible Work Environments

With a focus on bringing employees back to the workplace, we saw lots of emphasis on enticing workers by mimicking some of the comforts of home, including various amenities like access to outdoor space and private offices that offered multi-purpose functionality.

The trends of mobility and adaptability sustained their dominance, with mobile dividers, markerboards, and adjustable height stations on casters featuring prominently. Dual-purpose spaces that could transform from offices to meeting rooms were also prevalent, emphasizing the importance of versatility. Additionally, the introduction of mobile batteries for powering devices showcased a potential shift toward more untethered power sources in the future.

Sustainability, Wellness, and Equity

An emphasis on lifecycle assessments, the use of recycled materials like PET, and take-back programs called continued attention to sustainability during the events. However, the challenge of sourcing products locally to reduce carbon footprints remains. Manufacturers’ efforts to achieve carbon neutrality through offsetting were acknowledged, but the industry must still strive for inherent carbon neutrality without relying solely on offsets.

This year also brought greater consideration for both wellness and equity. On the forefront were spaces that promoted decompression and respite, reflecting a conscious effort to address the wellbeing of employees returning to in-person work. While there was an increase in highlighting BIPOC artists, planning for neurodiversity, and including accessibility features, there’s still room for improvement to make sure that representation and inclusion are priorities in design. A display of accessible private pods for the workplace was particularly exciting, showcasing a thoughtful approach to meeting the needs of all individuals.

In an ever-evolving industry where designers are exploring inventive solutions to craft spaces that blend functionality and aesthetics, the 2023 Design Days and NeoCon events showcased exciting new innovations. It will be interesting to watch the trends as they progress and explore how they can support a more sustainable, equitable, and creative future. The BWBR Interior Design team is excited to explore how these developments can work for our clients!