How Do We Push For Innovation In Healthcare Design?

How Do We Push For Innovation In Healthcare Design?

Photo credit: The Center for Health Design

The Center for Health Design has been deep in strategic planning for the past nine months. Because of that, we’ve spent a great deal of time exploring the current state of the healthcare design industry to better understand the role we can play over the next decade in continuing to push for innovation.

Innovation is one of those words that gets thrown around easily. Everyone wants to be innovative and knows when they see innovation, but getting there is far more complex.

It requires not only seeing an area where change needs to happen but also challenging existing belief systems, standards, and solutions. That takes work.

Advances in healthcare design

Looking back, the industry can be proud of the advances in healthcare design that we’ve envisioned, cultivated, and launched into new baseline expectations. When I started in this industry 34 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see two to four patients in a room.

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a new hospital design without single-patient rooms and ample space for family and care teams. We’ve also watched healthcare environments become much less institutional as well as focus on family engagement in the care circle and providing thoughtful spaces for them.

And yet, as things have changed in the last quarter century, at the core, much has stayed the same. A patient room circa 2000 would share a very close resemblance to the patient rooms we are designing today.

Still, we know that many other influences such as new technologies, an aging population, and cost containment will reshape the healthcare system, and with those shifts comes a generational opportunity to change the healthcare spaces where care happens.

Fostering deeper collaboration in healthcare design

So how do we, on the design side, continue to push for innovation? One pathway is through dialogue. For innovation to stick, it must create value and align with strategy. The Center has long advocated for design teams to be at the table as early as possible when a new project is envisioned; it’s hard to support a strategy you’re unaware of.

The design community must also push to find ways to forge deeper and ongoing relationships with healthcare leaders. The Center has created a few collegial networks over the years to help facilitate this: the Pebble Project initiative, which brings together the design and healthcare communities to incubate and accelerate design innovation.

More recently, the Environment Networks help build bridges by bringing together diverse stakeholders to focus on practical problem-solving of current issues and thoughtful exploration of future solutions.

But these are tiny drops of water in a vast ocean. Project teams need to spend more time where clients are, hearing their pain points and better understanding the fundamental changes that will shape their future.

Local, regional, and national organizations like Women in Healthcare, the American College of Healthcare Executives, and hospital boards can help foster dialogue and inform industry professionals on where they can learn, contribute, and share.

And The Center will continue to find ways to keep these conversations going, as well, sharing what we learn and the implications for the healthcare design community in the hopes that it might spark some new solutions in your work.

And we’d love to hear the ways you’ve successfully engaged in meaningful conversations with the healthcare community and new directions it may have sent you in. Please reach out and share your stories and successes.

Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at


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