Health Care Design Trends: Lean & Strategic Simulation

Within the health care design industry, many trends pop up, and it’s important to differentiate ones that are simply fads versus those that can have a long-term, positive impact on the forward movement of health care design in the present and future. Of the many trends currently circulating throughout the industry, two in particular — Lean processing and Strategic Simulation Design — are key elements that continue to be realized in successful health care design.

While the idea of Lean production has certainly been around long before Toyota made the concept famous in the 1990s, only recently have we seen it be widely embraced within the health care design industry. This is due in part to the reality of rising health care costs, which now virtually require a health care organization to run as efficiently as possible.

According to Six Sigma, Lean’s sibling concept that gained popularity when Jack Welch borrowed the idea from Motorola and imbued it into the business philosophy of General Electric, “Lean thinking considers the life cycle of materials, processes and products. The goal is to minimize work and all non-value added activities to increase value and reduce opportunities for defects and errors. Customer satisfaction increases and production cost decrease.”

As the Lean production concept is applied to the health care industry in particular, Lean design and construction cannot be considered something that is done piecemeal. A commitment to quality efficiency must be incorporated within the design and construction process from commencement to completion. When establishing this commitment to continuous improvement, a designer should look to identify areas of waste. Specifically in health care design, common themes include waiting, inefficient conveyance, rework, excessive inventory, unnecessary motion (such as excessive patient transport or long walking distances for nursing staff) and repeat of processes.

Six Sigma can augment Lean to add to the overall optimization of health care design. By focusing on process improvements, Six Sigma data-driven methodologies can be incorporated into any health care design undertaking to define, measure, analyze, improve and control the overall project.

In collaboration with Lean concepts, Strategic Simulation Modeling (also known as Med Model programming) provides architects with the ability to design more efficient health care programs, due in part to the capability that is offered in Strategic Simulation Modeling of right-sizing health care designs without sacrificing on efficiency, safety or patient care.

Strategic Simulation Design is a powerful Windows-based simulation tool designed for optimizing Lean performances for health care systems through its data. This software solution allows for animated visualization of clinic processes and has the ability to import CAD files. In addition, this software shows improvement in patient flow, facility design, logistical analysis and resource utilization.

Equally important, the Strategic Simulation Design program has the aptitude to test new ideas before dedicating time and capital, as well as optimizing the available resources and space capacity for such ideas. This software is able to look at all aspects of the health care system, while experimenting with different operating strategies and designs to achieve the best results.

Specifically, Strategic Simulation Design focuses on such applications including department specific productivity improvement; facilities design; future change planning; staff planning, patient capacity analysis; equipment planning and logistical analysis; emergency preparedness; bed capacity management; health care policy formulation; and managed care analysis. The data provided through these applications can then be compared with Lean efforts to ensure maintained or improved value for the health care community, while ensuring the highest levels of efficiency throughout the production process.

In addition, other trends have become more prevalent in the health care design industry. Those include Building Information Modeling (BIM), Flexibility, Evidence-based Design, Maintenance and Operating Costs, Universal Accessibility, Project Delivery Methods and Owning versus Leasing. Still, the greatest positive impact in health care design can be felt through implementation and collaboration of Lean methods and Strategic Simulation Design.

By understanding both Lean processing and Strategic Simulation Design as they relate to health care design, as well as the outcomes they offer the industry, health care design can meet its responsibility to offer thoughtful environments that improve patient safety, reduce staff fatigue, increase effectiveness in delivering care and improve overall health care quality.

Anthony Cavallaro is the CEO of JACA Architects, www.jacaarchitects.com, an architectural firm dedicated to health care design in the greater Boston area.

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