From ancillary to essential: Technology’s new role in your hospital master plan (Part 1)

March 28, 2018 Liz Schmitz

From robots to selfies, understanding the impact of new and emerging technologies can help healthcare facilities design for flexibility


The one certainty with technology is that it will change. This is especially true in healthcare design. As architects and technology consultants, we aim to anticipate change, design for flexibility, and ensure that our buildings last far longer than any current trend in technology.

Like the architectural master plan—which aims to help healthcare facilities put a strategy in place to address future needs based on their current facility conditions, research and _q_tweetable:Before a person steps foot in a hospital or clinic, technology has already shaped their impression of the facility._q_benchmarks, operational considerations, financial realities, community needs, and site conditions—the technology master plan analyzes the current state and provides a path to reach the desired future state. The increasing interrelationship between these two plans is evidenced by the growing need to accommodate technology infrastructure within existing buildings, while also ensuring that capacity exists to support future needs.

This two-part series will discuss some of the many ways that developing the technology master plan as an integral part of the hospital facility master plan will help ensure that the buildings of today can sustain the tech needs of tomorrow.

A well-developed technology master plan provides insight into future space needs

Since technology is constantly changing, the technology master plan is a powerful tool to help understand the future goals and uses of technology. In some cases, technology plans have a direct impact on space needs. For example, a hospital that is transitioning toward registration kiosks will need to plan the physical space for the kiosks, an intuitive way for patients to locate them, and the necessary network connectivity to make them functional.


Patients manage their appointments using automated kiosks on the left and right sides of the lobby at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s Butler Clinical Building in Philadelphia.

The technology master plan may also reveal that certain spaces will no longer be needed in the future. As we keep moving toward a paperless world, including the shift to Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), thought should be given to how spaces currently being occupied by medical records, libraries, and file storage can be utilized in the future.

A key consideration in healthcare design is processes—and automation and robotic technologies are changing the processes for which we design

Robotics are increasingly used in healthcare for a variety of applications, including surgery, pharmacy pickup, and disinfection. One application that has a large-scale impact is using Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to transport medications, supplies, meals, linens, and trash throughout the hospital. It requires a full-facility approach to planning, from providing adequate space, power, and network access to charge and stage automated carts, to ensuring smooth flooring transitions for robots to maneuver over, to designing and implementing AGV pathways that will keep public traffic separate from AGVs.

The advent of telemedicine and telehealth means rethinking the design of clinical spaces and outpatient facilities

For many years, we have observed the increasing acuity of patients in the inpatient setting. In a similar trend, with the advent of telemedicine and telehealth, it is easy to imagine that only the sickest of patients will need to be seen directly by a physician. If you can receive a diagnosis and necessary treatment for ailments like the common cold or an earache without ever leaving your house, then your doctor’s office may become the place to go when more complex consultations are needed. From the healthcare planning perspective, there will likely be an increased need for more spaces dedicated to procedure rooms, radiology, and point-of-care testing in the clinic setting.

Conversely, spaces for telemetry, physician consults, and other services that may be handled remotely in the future should be designed with flexibility and carefully located so they can be converted for future uses.

Technology is driving a need for interdisciplinary collaboration spaces

As technology helps to connect the medical community, it is easier than ever for specialists to consult with one another regarding their patients. The care team collaboration space should have appropriate technology to enable clinicians to connect through video teleconference (VTC) and should be large enough to accommodate multiple individuals in one location. Academic hospitals will require additional space for students to learn and collaborate. Also, when collaboration is done remotely, it is important that collaboration rooms provide for privacy and acoustic insulation.

There is a strong demand for simulation spaces in medical education

Technology has enabled new advances in clinical education. Through various technologies—such as computer simulation and virtual reality—clinicians can practice procedures and protocols, and rehearse scenarios before ever meeting a patient. The design of clinical simulation labs should accommodate these new technologies and allow flexibility for additional future educational techniques.


Healthcare students at Louisiana State University practice real-world medical scenarios using simulation labs within the Medical Education Building.


Resource and education centers are a key healthcare amenity

In the digital age, people expect to have information available at their fingertips. To address this expectation, many hospitals have health resource centers where patients and their loved ones can go to access the internet, read materials about health and wellness, and engage in wellness classes. Providing a comfortable space for these activities, in a highly-visible and trafficked area, is one way hospitals can promote the wellbeing of their community through education.


Hospital users access a resource and education center located within Massachusetts General Hospital’s Ambulatory Practice of the Future.


The selfie-friendly facility has become a marketing strategy for hospitals

Healthcare executives know that their image is being portrayed daily in social media posts from patients and their families. As a result, they are increasingly striving to ensure that spaces that are likely to be photographed send a desirable message about the hospital’s brand.

One department that is likely to be frequently photographed is the spaces associated with mothers and babies. For example, patient room headwalls are frequently visible in selfies that a mom takes with her new bundle of joy. Additionally, gathering spaces—such as antepartum room for baby showers or a postpartum education room—may be prime spaces for photoshoots of mothers or babies. Commonly photographed areas of the hospital should be well-maintained, beautiful, have healing properties, and convey the hospital’s brand message.


Extra attention to detail in their maternity suites helps Florida Hospital for Women put their best foot forward on social media by ensuring that their brand is positively conveyed in each photo opportunity.

Before a person steps foot in a hospital or clinic, technology has already shaped their impression of the facility. Once they arrive at the building, it continues to play an integral role in their experience at multiple touchpoints in the healthcare journey. As architects, we strive to integrate technology with the built environment in a way that positively impacts the health and wellbeing of everyone that experiences the spaces we design.

This is the first blog in a two-part series on integrating the master technology design and hospital facility plans. The next blog will focus on technology design considerations for improving the hospital user experience.

About the Author

Liz Schmitz

Liz Schmitz is a licensed architect in Texas and has led projects in all stages of design from project acquisition and master-planning through construction. She especially enjoys working with clients to learn about their unique project goals, develop solutions, and facilitate decision-making.

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