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Building Emergency Departments of the Future

Fact: The emergency care landscape is changing now more than it ever has before. The standards required by the recently implemented Affordable Care Act (ACA), consistent competition from other healthcare providers, and demanding patient preferences have all led emergency departments (EDs) to either adapt to the evolving industry or go out of business. A recent report from Building Design + Construction, describes factors that are shaping emergency departments today.

The report titled, “7 New Factors Shaping Hospital Emergency Departments”, summarized thoughts on the design, construction, and operation of EDs from interviews with healthcare experts. Here is what was concluded in the report:

  1. Heightened emphasis on improving patient outcomes and quality of care.

One of the main changes brought about by the ACA is that reimbursements have changed from a quantity based system to a quality based system. If patients are genuinely cared for then they might not return to the ED as frequently. Quality of care can be improved by more efficient work stations, private rooms, and fast-track areas, the report suggests.

  1. Use of Lean concepts to optimize operational efficiencies.

Lean concepts help EDs become more efficient with the tools they have while improving patient staff satisfaction. In addition, it helps with operations and patient flow, one example being the creation split-flow triage models. 

  1. Super-flexibility for quick expansion.

The title pretty much says it all, EDs need to be as flexible as their patient load. A model that was suggested by one healthcare expert is a linear concept, which allows for the expansion on a small level without changing the entire design of the ED. One example is that to expand capacity, one bed can be added without changing any part of the ED design. Another expert described exam rooms that can be equipped to treat all patients, not just specifically pediatric or adult patients.

  1. Deeper—much deeper—integration of technology.

Technology has allowed for great advancements in the healthcare industry. From telemedicine to tablets at bedside to apps that can help with lab test results, the healthcare industry has adopted technology in full force. One trend seems certain though, technology is allowing information and tools to become portable, and may allow some equipment to be eliminated to save space or transferable from room to room, making processes more efficient.

  1. Greater outreach to the community.

EDs need to market more now than they ever have before. This is because of the increasing competition brought on by retail health clinics, urgent care centers, and freestanding EDs (FSEDs). Although retail health clinics and urgent care centers cannot provide the same services as EDs can, they can provide quicker processing and competitive prices for low-acuity services that are not emergent in nature.

  1. Enhanced preparation for catastrophic incidents.

Adding to the excitement of EDs is the aspect that at any time, there could be a surge of patients coming into the ED. Moreover, we cannot predict why there could be a large amount of patients. Was there a natural disaster? A sudden disease or virus outbreak? A mass automobile accident? One expert shared advanced models of an “all-risk ready” ED in order to prepare for these kinds of incidents.

  1. Rise of the freestanding emergency center.

There has been an increasing trend in the number of FSEDs. Many hospital systems are building these facilities as off-site locations, as they can broaden the hospital system’s reach and visibility in a community while also benefiting the system’s other local EDs by reducing overcrowding. While the cost of constructing an FSED does not amount the same to building an entire hospital, FSEDs are required to have the same equipment that a hospital-based ED has. Where an FSED is located is an important factor in the success of FSEDs.

In conclusion, the report states that healthcare is moving toward an era of convenience, speed, and healthy patient outcomes. Future construction of EDs should focus on these factors while also taking into consideration its own costs.

View the report from Building Design + Construction here.

By Mike Williams, President – The Abaris Group

Want to learn more about retail health clinics and FSEDs? The Abaris Group will present webinars on both of these topics.

Freestanding Emergency Departments webinar: February 24th at 10:30am PST

Retail Health webinar: March 24th at 10:30am PST

Look out for information on how to register for these webinars in the upcoming weeks.

Have a question relating to emergency departments, trauma, or EMS for one of our consultants? Have a topic that you want The Abaris Group to address? Send an email with your question to:

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