Designing prototype hospitals that help serve patients sooner

Rapid population and economic growth are goals for most cities, but they can bring strain on essential services like healthcare.

The 2020 global pandemic caused virtually every industry to reconsider its operational processes and the design of its facilities, including the healthcare market sector. Some parts of the world found themselves with insufficient capacity to handle patient loads, forcing personnel to provide care in nearby hotels and tents. As a result, hospital executives started asking how their existing facilities could be modified or future facilities designed to accommodate situations like this. Page and client Baylor Scott & White had already developed one possible solution.

Due to exploding population growth in its markets, Baylor Scott & White had found itself in need of more small-scale, full-service medical centers. The Page team responded with a hospital prototype, which shrank facility design and construction timelines so that the system could serve patients sooner and closer to home. The first medical center based on the prototype opened in December 2018 in the north Austin suburb of Pflugerville, and another two in Austin and nearby Buda, which opened in 2019.

We sat down with Page architect Lisa Bradley to learn more about prototype hospitals, why standardization is feasible and beneficial in healthcare projects, and how the concept supported Baylor Scott & White’s ambition to be “the trusted leader, educator and innovator in value-based care delivery, customer experience and affordability.” See below to learn about the thought leadership behind this initiative.

What are the pros and cons of designing multiple hospitals based on a prototype?

It is a much more efficient process. We made a single set of decisions about the program, layout, adjacencies and aesthetics which applies to these three hospitals, and potentially more in the future, rather than making the same choices multiple times. This enabled us to move quickly when it was time to adapt the prototype for a specific site. Another benefit is the prototype reinforces Baylor Scott & White’s brand. Sharing a common design vocabulary boosts each hospital’s visibility and presence, which helps patients in new markets recognize and trust every hospital in the network.

There really aren’t any disadvantages! Programming and schematic design require more time, but that made the process for designing three separate facilities go smoothly and quickly, so we saved time in the end.

What are the challenges of designing a prototype and then adapting it?

The central challenge is creating a flexible prototype design so that a medical center can serve patients with a wide range of conditions and change with the times. First, the Universal Care Suite incorporates a robust headwall set-up and patient lift in every room to accommodate patients of all levels of acuity. Second, the building’s systems and infrastructure are designed to the highest standards to serve patients with different needs and to facilitate future conversions. This means a multi-specialty clinic can be moved off-site and that area easily converted into additional hospital, clinical or treatment space. Finally, the space plan incorporates front-of-house and back-of-house “spines” that serve as armatures for future expansion so that any addition will be a seamless extension of the original building.

Are prototypes the future of healthcare facility design?

Most community medical centers have similar programs, so a flexible prototype makes sense for this use case. Although the centers in Austin, Buda and Pflugerville look and function similarly now, each will add programs and evolve in response to its own market, gradually taking on a unique identity in the community.

Pandemics are ongoing events defined by waves that may come months apart. As large-scale and global pandemics continue to increase in frequency, prototype hospitals are one answer to this public health issue.

About Lisa

Page thought leader Lisa Bradley’s architecture portfolio consists primarily of large, complex healthcare projects. She embraced the market sector because a healthcare studio in college helped foster her love for planning and design of medical facilities. Lisa prides herself on being a creative, logistical thinker, solving planning and design puzzles for her clients and is a huge advocate for engaging in every part of the design and construction process to ensure the project’s success.