September 12, 2017

5 Biggest Mistakes in Medical Office Building Design

Medical office buildings have more complex functional requirements than traditional offices. The many and various needs of building occupants, doctors and patients often mean any design flaw only becomes more evident once the building is completed and occupied.

There are a few common mistakes when it comes to the design of medical office buildings, but these can be avoided when planning with the right resources and strategies in mind.

Mistake 1: Using an Inexperienced Design Team

It is important to first assemble a knowledgeable and professional team of contractors, architects, and designers. Programming of these special use spaces requires a keen understanding of how medical services are provided and what makes a medical facility operate in an efficient and predictable manner.

There are a number of medical service provider models being used today, and the buildings each business requires can be quite specific.

Hiring a specialty consultant who understands the ins and outs of medical building design may prove vital. This may increase costs for your firm, but the longer-term payoff of continued business from your client’s initial successful project will make it worth it.

Mistake 2: Focusing Completely on Initial Costs

Medical offices are all about flexibility and productivity. If your design and construction team only considers up-front costs and ignores long-term month-to-month costs, the client may become saddled with a building that no longer fits their business needs and operating budget after a few years.

Building owners and managers may be tempted to cut the initial building construction cost and ignore the facility’s long-term objectives. It’s important to sit down with the team to find the balance between staying within the desired budget, and a budget that realistically accounts for the future needs of the building.

Using lower quality materials and finishes may save money initially, but this guarantees increased life-cycle costs. Similar to commercial buildings, medical offices can be high-traffic areas that need to accommodate large volumes of people. The finishes and materials need to be long lasting, highly durable and resistant to cleaning agents. By using high-quality materials and finishes, future maintenance costs can be lowered considerably.

Mistake 3: Ignoring the Flow of Circulation

The flow of circulation is one of the most important considerations when designing a medical office. A chaotic waiting area with no clear one-way flow or line to the check-in desk is a prime example of this mistake.

A medical office should be viewed as a series of interlinking systems, with each one having a different function and direction. A loop or a central core works very well, as none of the services need to backtrack on each other. This also saves time and increases the staff and medical practitioners’ productivity.

The flow of an office is also determined by the kind of medical practice that is in the space. A dental office will have a different flow than a facility for cosmetic surgery. Architects will need to consider the size of waiting rooms, the number of patient rooms and sub-waiting rooms.

The circulation of a space has to be clear and straightforward for the people inside. A maze of confusing walkways and intersections can inhibit productivity and cause patients to get lost.

Mistake 4: Lack of Flexibility

With rapid advances in technology, flexibility is a critical component of medical office design. Shutting down segments of the facility every few years to complete upgrades are costly and inconvenient.

Luckily, this rapid rate of medical and technological advances enables architects and builders to design more intelligent buildings. A simple wall, for example, can have an array of functions to ensure flexibility.

When designing with flexibility in mind, it is important to note the services of the facility and gear design towards easy maintenance and expansion when needed. Walkways or circulation routes are good areas for services to run. Rooms can be plugged into the circulation spine with less hindrance to the rest of the facility.

The differentiation between soft and hard spaces is also important. Soft spaces include areas like waiting rooms, reception areas and doctor’s rooms. Hard spaces are areas that cannot be easily moved or changed, like surgery theaters or x-ray facilities.

It is important to design areas to be multi-functional.  Pause areas can be converted into patient rooms when the need arises. Flexibility that is designed into a building will enhance the useful life of the building and create a more valuable asset for the client.

Mistake 5: Not Including Green Spaces in the Design

Green space is a critical component of the modern medical facility. Outdoor green spaces and the use of natural light establishes a pleasant environment for patients and staff.

Green spaces can include water fountains, trees, and lawns. Waiting rooms can often feel claustrophobic and stuffy when experiencing high volumes of traffic. By creating visual links to accessible green spaces, sufficient airflow, and natural daylight, your medical building will support a calmer, more pleasant environment for the people inside.

Designing with Everyone’s Health in Mind

Providing the best possible care to patients is the main objective of any medical facility. Avoiding these mistakes will provide a healthy work environment to staff so they are able to perform optimally, and a relaxing setting for patients so they can rest and focus on getting well.