Efficiency is Key: Trends in the Health Care Industry

There have been several shifts in the health care industry recently. The Affordable Care Act is most likely here to stay, which will drastically increase the number of insured people in need of care by 2014. With a larger pool of patients, health care providers are becoming more inclined to spearhead new construction and consolidation projects. But the old way of doing things won’t cut it anymore, with individual doctors’ practices in the “old Victorian house” (providing little to no additional services) requiring patients to trek to large hospitals for tests. Instead, the focus is moving towards growing and improving outpatient care.

Medical Office Buildings & Community Health Centers Are the Future

In this economy, everyone is looking for ways to become more efficient. One of the trends we’re hearing more and more about — particularly in the health care industry — is “lean operations.” The goal is to eliminate waste and create a productive and safe environment to provide better care for patients. In the past, outpatient care facilities were multi-tenant buildings that housed isolated providers with different specialties and no link to each other at all; so one office building might have a few primary care physicians, a dentist and dermatologists. They would each have their own separate suites with their own infrastructure. This may have worked just fine for the doctors, but it certainly wasn’t convenient for the patients traveling to multiple locations to receive care.

Investing more capital in multi-specialty doctors’ groups was a logical first step to becoming lean and more efficient. Putting all services (exam rooms, lab work, treatments that don’t require a hospital operating room, radiology, etc.) under one roof is more convenient for patients and helps to keep them out of the hospital. Moving forward, facility designs are changing to reflect this new model, resulting in more new construction and renovations of existing facilities. At Burlington, Mass.-based Erland Construction, we have seen this investment in construction take place first hand. Over the past year, we have managed the new construction of a medical office building and the rehab of a community health center. We continue to receive requests for proposals for similar facilities on a regular basis.

Making the Vision a Reality

One example of this revolution in the health care industry is the new Concord Hillside Medical Associates facility (a Harvard Vanguard practice) in Concord, Mass. Located on a six-acre parcel along busy Route 2, this 50,000-square-foot, two-story structure features patient waiting rooms, examination rooms, a laboratory area, a pharmacy, behavioral health services, an ultrasound room, X-ray facilities and a call center. An exterior MRI pad allows shared equipment to be used at this location — all in an effort to maximize both operational efficiency and a positive patient experience.

In a recent interview, Dr. Ron Kwon, medical director for the new Concord Hillside facility said of this space, “If you look at today’s health care environment, it’s clear that things are changing. It isn’t about just building a new building and adding more space to enable more services; it’s about changing the paradigm of care and how you deliver it in a physical environment. We really wanted the building to be patient-centric, enabling as much one-stop shopping as possible, but to do it in a therapeutic, healing environment. We wanted to make something that was truly innovative.”

During preconstruction, the project team — spearheaded by Dr. Kwon — worked with an outside consultant to ensure the final design would yield an efficient operation. Because this new building houses several services under one roof, it was critical to examine the layout in order to eliminate any waste and maximize productivity.

For example, traditionally a doctor’s office would have all of the exam rooms in one area, a nurse’s station, and doctors’ offices bunched together in the back. At Concord Hillside, they opted for modular “pods,” giving each group a dedicated workstation with its own medical assistant right next to each physician’s office. With this configuration, the physician actually has to cross this “pod” to go between the exam room and his office, enhancing communication between staff and reducing wait times for patients. This improved design also addresses other things that could potentially frustrate patients, such as receiving timely lab results or prescription refills. This lean design really reinforces the benefit of working as a team, while keeping patient needs at the forefront of the process.

The implementation of these modular pods freed up a lot of extraneous space, allowing for the reduction of the clinic from 43,000 square feet to 38,000 square feet. This, in turn, freed up funds to add a pharmacy, imaging services with MRI and complete visual services with an optical shop. With an improved design geared towards patient convenience and 100 percent buy in from the clinical staff, Concord Hillside is embracing the future of the health care industry ensuring that the operations are well-organized and the patients are happy.

Efficiency is the Name of the Game

Health care today isn’t just about treating illness; it’s about preventing illness by promoting and maintaining health. The health care industry is certainly in flux, but change isn’t always a bad thing. In this instance, the change is about becoming better by focusing on the patient experience, rather than just falling back on doing things the way they’ve always been done. The future is bright as health care organizations look to better serve their patients, reduce mistakes and, ultimately, become more profitable.

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