Designing Hospitals to Accommodate Evolving Demographics and Technologies


a male nurse checks the dosage on his digital tablet supervised by his staff nurse

Resilient design is a top priority for healthcare construction projects. Hospitals are investing billions to improve patient outcomes and to maintain their competitive edge, and they want to ensure their investment keeps them cutting-edge for years to come. In fact, Health Facilities Management‘s 2016 Hospital Construction Survey found that 60 percent of facilities are using evidence-based design. They are putting much effort into researching what improvements and technologies are worth the investment. In addition, the survey found another 57 percent of hospitals are conducting mock-ups and staff interviews, getting input from their troops on the ground before construction begins. Forward-thinking healthcare facilities are basing their construction designs on hard evidence. Which trends are influencing design? Consider three evolving demographics and technologies that are leaving their mark.

Planners Focus on Green Furnishings

Hospital construction planners are increasingly focusing their attention on eco-friendly furnishings. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) has been a standard material for furnishings and other equipment in the healthcare industry for some time. It’s economical, easy to clean, durable and can come with an antimicrobial coating to improve infection control. However, the use of PVC is controversial since there is no safe way to manufacture or dispose of PVC products. Hydrogen chloride gas and dioxin, both hazardous chemicals, are released when PVC breaks down. If it seems hypocritical for the healthcare industry to use a material that poses certain hazards to the environment and people, it is. Building a sustainable facility makes sense both from an ethical view and a financial one. Eco-friendly products improve indoor air quality and send a positive message to patients and the community.

Hospital construction planners should include eco-friendly options in their strategies. One option includes non-PVC options. Clinton, a medical equipment and logistics company, is providing such options. Clinton meets all manufacturing and government standards for environmental safety through its PVC-products, including product lines that offer vinyl-alternative upholstery. Vinyl is made from ethylene (a material extracted from crude oil) and chlorine. When processed, the two substances form PVC. Consider just some of the alternative materials trending now.

  • CARB I and CARB II compliant plywood that has no urea-formaldehyde added. Water-based or UV-cured topcoats are applied for durability, and products are assembled with low VOC glues. Clinton carries Hausmann Green-Line products, including treatment tables, carts, and furniture, all of which exceed standards established by the California Air Resource Board.
  • Metal products are 100 percent recyclable and protected with a VOC-free, water-based powder-coating.
  • Laminate products also use CARB I and II compliant laminated materials with no added urea-formaldehyde.
  • Vinyl-free upholstery options that have the look and feel of leather with no PVC.

Medical Carts Need to Meet Tech Demands

A recent survey found that two-thirds of hospitals now have formal mobile device strategies. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of hospitals with a documented mobile strategy went from 34 percent to 65 percent. Healthcare facilities recognize that these devices have the ability to streamline care, saving physician time, providing more individualized care and improving patient outcomes. However, one key challenge is how to integrate these devices into hospital room infrastructure. Hospital planners are turning to designers for custom solutions. Consider how Northwestern Medicine met their needs in this case study.

First Healthcare Products worked with Northwestern Medicine to develop a tablet registration cart for its Emergency Department. Northwestern Medicine needed a cart that integrated seamlessly into the department’s workflow, could be used for registration and documentation and was small, mobile and durable. The result was a custom cart solution that met functional requirements, improved efficiency, reduced downtown, saved space, lowered costs and worked with existing technology. Working off feedback from staff, First Healthcare Products designed a cart with the following features:

  • The cart includes a Grab n’ Go keyless twist lock flex magnetic mount that allows staff to easily remove the device, leveraging face-to-face contact with the patient.
  • The small documentation surface, only 15″ x 15″, makes the cart compact, saving valuable space in small ER rooms.
  • A powerful battery that can last up to three days without being recharged allows the device to last between multiple shifts.
  • A flexible design provides ergonomic adjustments for different heights, including sitting and standing settings.
  • An antimicrobial surface reduces infection and transmission.
  • Its adaptable for multiple devices, so future upgrades will not require new carts.

Meeting the Needs of a Changing Population

According to a report entitled Weighing the Risks: Hospital Scales, Accuracy and Safety from Health O Meter Professional Scales, current hospital scales pose a major health risk for patients and liability risk for hospitals. The risk involves both mobility issues and the accuracy of scales weighing obese patients. Hospital patients are typically less mobile and more prone to have motor skill issues. This is partly because patients older than 65 make up 40 percent of hospitalizations in the U.S.

Blur abstract hospital interior background with customer or patients at counter

In addition, 3.8 million Americans now weigh over 300 lbs and 400,000 weigh more than 400 lbs. Many scales may have a high capacity but are not accurate at these higher weights. Inaccurate weights can lead to a misrepresentation of a patient’s condition and improper dosing. BMI is a critical measure that physicians use. Not having an accurate weight can lead to over or under treatment, or simply improper recommendations. “As scales accommodate heavier weights, accuracy decreases,” explained the report. How serious is a small inaccuracy? According to one study cited in the report, a variance as small as three pounds can trigger assessments for peripheral edema jugular venous distension, dyspnea or abnormal lung sounds. What can hospitals do to minimize risk?

  • Make standardization a priority. Hospitals should use the same scales throughout their facilities.
  • Reduce the risk of a transcription error, including weight and dates, by integrating scales with the hospital’s electronic medical record system.
  • Start an assessment by taking inventory of all scales across the network. Note how often they are used and by whom.
  • Ensure scales have rail supports and low platforms, especially in departments that see elderly patients.
  • Evaluate the accuracy of the scales across the entire range of use.
  • Have a process in place that ensures each scale is calibrated regularly, and the staff is trained to zero out scales between patients.
  • Develop standards for usage and establish maintenance procedures and schedules. Consistency across the network is key.

Healthcare is evolving fast. Staying on top of current and future trends will ensure your facility stays relevant for years to come. Attainia’s PLAN software allows users to easily view cutting-edge products that are part of our supplier program. The above-mentioned companies are available to Attainia users for construction and renovation projects. If your company would like to join our supplier network, contact us.


These manufacturers are all part of the Attainia supplier program. In order to view the products and specify them in new construction/reno projects, hospitals can log into the Attainia PLAN software. If other manufacturers would like to join the program, they can email [email protected] or visit the webpage to learn more.

The Attainia Team
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The Attainia Team