Redefining Healthcare Interior Design and Materials in a Post-Pandemic World

06/25/2020 By Irena Frumkin

How are interior designers and their teams addressing recent healthcare challenges? As COVID-19 developed into a global pandemic, designers, architects and manufacturers mobilized quickly and began re-imagining the ways we could improve materials and furnishings of current and future healthcare spaces. With an increased and critical focus on healing, safety, sterilization and capacity, healthcare environments are at the epicenter of a major design shift.

HGA’s design for CentraCare Health-Long Prairie in Long Prairie, MN, was a 2019 IIDA Healthcare Design Awards winner for the Hospitals–Community category. Credit: Photo by Corey Gaffer, courtesy of HGA
Photo: HGA’s design for CentraCare Health-Long Prairie in Long Prairie, MN, was a 2019 IIDA Healthcare Design Awards winner for the Hospitals–Community category. Credit: Photo by Corey Gaffer, courtesy of HGA

As our understanding of the pandemic changes and evolves, the design of healthcare interiors will evolve as well. While we cannot know for sure how healthcare interiors will look in five, 10 or 20 years, we know that design and architecture firms across the world are up for the challenge of matching design with need and necessity.

Adaptable Spaces Mean Flexible Solutions

In the coming years, “adaptability” will be an even more prominent keyword for healthcare design. The current crisis has made clear that certain healthcare environments may not be fully equipped to face unique and urgent challenges, knowing that the state of safety and healthcare needs in our society can change within a matter of days.

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As we build new treatment facilities and hospitals, we will need to strongly consider how to make the designs easily adjustable. Flexible, multipurpose spaces and elements like shell rooms, mobile workstations and prefabricated walls will become the norm for creating adaptable solutions for space capacity and treatment types. 

Rethinking Common Areas

Unnecessary common spaces within all public buildings and centers may be on the chopping block as we try to limit the time we spend around strangers. Self-check-in and self-rooming trends will continue to increase in healthcare facilities, and designers will need to accommodate the shifting norms for how we wait for care and for loved ones.

2019 IIDA Healthcare Design Awards winner, Ambulatory–Cancer Center, Designed by EwingCole, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK Nassau) in Uniondale, NY, was a 2019 IIDA Healthcare Design Awards winner in the Ambulatory–Cancer Center category. Photo by: Halkin/Mason Photography, LLC; courtesy of EwingCole.
Photo: 2019 IIDA Healthcare Design Awards winner, Ambulatory–Cancer Center, Designed by EwingCole, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK Nassau) in Uniondale, NY, was a 2019 IIDA Healthcare Design Awards winner in the Ambulatory–Cancer Center category. Photo by: Halkin/Mason Photography, LLC; courtesy of EwingCole. 

Staff rooms intended for rest and respite will also be reconsidered. Shared break rooms or staff locker rooms may be replaced with smaller, more spread-out spaces. Administrative officers may also move off-site with certain employees encouraged to work from home, especially at peak clinic hours. These adjustments will limit the number of people in a healthcare facility at any given time, and provide designers with more design flexibility.

[Related: IIDA Focuses On Approaches to Sustainability in Design As a Response to COVID-19]

Increasing Digital Capacity

Telemedicine is having a moment, and we will likely continue seeing our doctors virtually, even as the U.S. enters advanced stages of reopening. Telemedicine has already been a helpful tool in connecting patients living in rural areas or with limited capacity for travel with healthcare providers, and now it is allowing providers to perform routine check-ups with patients without putting anyone at risk.

As telemedicine technology advances along with this increased demand, the physical design of healthcare spaces will need to evolve to accommodate a digitized world and help create space efficiency and limit non-emergency patient surges. Additionally, contact-free digital technology like digital kiosks that do not require administration will become standard, decreasing the need for face-to-face exposure.

2021 IIDA Healthcare Design Awards

If your firm’s recent interior design project reflects the spatial changes we hope to see in a post-pandemic world, or if its interiors challenge the standards of how we provide and receive care, submit to the 2021 IIDA Healthcare Design Awards this summer.

This annual competition celebrates outstanding originality and excellence in the design and furnishings of healthcare interior spaces, and will provide you and your firm an opportunity to share your innovative designs with the international design community.

Submissions are open from July 31, 2020, through Sept. 17, 2020. Learn more and view last year’s winners.

Read next: How Working from Home is Changing Our Perceptions of the Workplace