While just about everyone expects that healthcare will continue to push into outpatient settings, whether the pandemic is strengthening that trend depends on whom you talk to.
“Yes, the outpatient growth was already booming prior to the pandemic. To assuage consumer concerns, there is a need for an increased number of ambulatory settings today,” Earl Swensson Associates, an architectural firm based in Nashville, said in its response to Modern Healthcare’s 2021 Construction & Design Survey.
“No,” Gould Turner Group, an architectural, planning and interior design firm based in Nashville, said in its survey response. “If anything, the pandemic has caused office visits to decline, and we’ve seen an increase in telehealth visits.”
What’s more clear is that the pandemic is influencing how outpatient facilities are designed. Less space is being used for waiting rooms, as patients are encouraged to pre-register using smartphones or online and clinics adopt “self-rooming,” which allows patients to bypass a waiting room entirely, said James Mladucky, vice president of design and construction at Indiana University Health.
He expects all IU Health clinics to transition to self-rooming in the foreseeable future so that it is standard practice by the time its new flagship campus opens in downtown Indianapolis in about six years.
Waiting rooms won’t go away entirely, said Angela Mazzi, a principal at architectural firm GBBN in Cincinnati, but a focus on social distancing and patient comfort requires an overhaul.
“Nobody wants to feel like they’re in the bus station sitting in a row of chairs,” she said. “Waiting rooms are already starting to offer more amenities and seating choices so, for example, you could get some work done while you’re waiting.” The waiting room of the newly renovated Westside Family Health Center in Culver City, Calif., includes workspaces that can accommodate laptops.
In some cases, the “waiting room” will be the patient’s car. A new campus being designed for Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston will include drive-up spaces for pharmacy pick-ups, pre-surgery testing and immunizations. Clinical team members will come outside to the patient’s car to deliver the services.
“If our parents don’t have to unbuckle the little kids out of their car seats, it’s just so much more convenient for them,” said Jill Pearsall, senior vice president for facilities, planning and development, and real estate services at Texas Children’s. “If we can make it more convenient for them, it’s the right thing to do.”
Lola Butcher is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Mo.