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Why healthcare leaders are assessing construction options

What’s behind this shift to prefab and modular construction solutions in the healthcare sector? We’ve identified these three trends shaping healthcare leaders’ decision making.

Photo courtesy DIRTT
Photo courtesy DIRTT
Photo courtesy DIRTT

This article originally appeared on Make Space, DIRTT’s editorial platform that shares perspectives from the design and construction industries.

When healthcare facilities need to change a patient-focused space, removing barriers that cause disruption, downtime and health and safety are critical elements to manage.

Without a doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified these pressures and created new ones. It has forced hospitals and other healthcare facilities to quickly adapt their spaces to handle an overwhelming and unprecedented surge in patients, protect caregivers, and remain fully operational while doing both.

The challenge? Construction in an occupied healthcare space has intense requirements that, if not met, can mean delays, ballooning budgets and risks to care.

The solution? Healthcare leaders today are seeking construction solutions that are flexible and durable, on pace with technological change, save time and money, and substantially reduce or remove the need for downtime. That’s why so many are turning to precision manufactured, off-site construction.

Recent market data from Dodge Data & Analytics shows 82% of healthcare facilities will use “a high frequency” of prefabrication and modular construction over the next three years.

What’s behind this shift to prefab and modular construction solutions in the healthcare sector? We’ve identified these three trends shaping healthcare leaders’ decision making.

Trend #1: Hospitals budgets are being squeezed

A major challenge for healthcare facilities is rising costs amid a steadily growing patient population. In the United States, for example, those cost pressures are combined with a drop in reimbursements from public and private insurance, putting a tighter squeeze on margins.

For many, the only place to mitigate costs is in their space, by repurposing the built environment with minimal disruption to healthcare services.

Off-site solutions paired with precision manufacturing provide cost-effective construction for hospitals by enabling the rapid adjustment of space with little or no downtime.

An example is a hospital in the Pacific Northwest that’s now saving about $1 million annually from its prefab makeover in 2017. Savings are a result of rooms remaining operational amid the ongoing shift in uses.

In another healthcare facility in Kansas City, a nursing director described it as an “ah-ha moment” when she realized the prefab solution meant the team could simply move structures around in the room without doing a messy demolition and cleanup.

Off-site solutions that improve patient experiences also have the potential to help providers increase their Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores. Precision-manufacturing allows hospitals to create environments that are not available through conventional construction and patient satisfaction ratings reflect that. Several hospitals have reported prefab solutions as being directly responsible for increased scores and, in turn, increased reimbursements.

Trend #2: Telehealth creates demand for new tech-first spaces

A recent report from McKinsey shows healthcare providers are seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth than they did before the pandemic. The report forecasts that up to $250 billion of current U.S. healthcare spending could be focused on virtual care in the coming years.

The surge in digital healthcare services is forcing providers to change their collaboration spaces. Facilities need additional environments that better accommodate computer equipment, including more electrical outlets, secure access to high-speed networks with increased bandwidth as well as data and online storage.

Off-site, modular construction can help address the demand for different kinds of healthcare spaces in the short term, as well as adapt to meet shifting demands in the future. For example, modular construction can include wall panels with built-in electrical and network access infrastructure.

Why does this matter? In the short term, off-site construction means faster timelines and safer installation because fewer people are needed on a job site. In the long term, modular construction allows for easy access to change wall panels and reconfigure a space, whether that’s adding more electrical outlets or doubling the size of the room.

Trend #3: Level up the health and safety of spaces

Health and safety concerns in hospital settings have been heightened amid the pandemic, forcing providers to be even more vigilant about keeping their environments clean and free of contamination.

A recent survey from the patient-safety platform SwipeSense shows nearly three-quarters of respondents are “concerned or extremely concerned about hospital safety” — a 46% increase since the onset of COVID-19.

Off-site construction can improve health and safety in healthcare settings by providing high-quality, easy-to-clean finishes that protect patients, staff and visitors.

Examples include mounting TVs and other screens behind encased glass walls so they can be more easily cleaned. Or building, air-tight linen storage cabinets into walls to prevent in-room contamination of sheets and towels. There are also solutions that increase health and safety simply via solid-surface countertops. Or by installing flexible, three dimensional laminate finished walls that can be sanitized easily, but also provide more durability in high-traffic areas where wall tile may be hit, bumped or scratched.

For facilities looking for more robust solutions, off-site construction can enable stand-alone modular testing enclosures that can be deployed indoors or outdoors. These units provide healthcare professionals a direct-contact but physically separated environment to test and consult patients. These units can be HEPA filtered, positive or negative pressure environments, and configured to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Off-site, modular solutions can go a long way to providing patients and professionals with the comfort they get knowing their surroundings are as safe as possible.

Modular construction enables adaptability in healthcare

Even after the pandemic is under control, healthcare providers will continue seeking ways to protect patients’ health and safety. They will look to innovate by providing the latest technology while also managing costs. These challenges can be addressed, at least in part, by precision manufacturing in off-site construction systems.

The shift to off-site construction is providing new solutions to modern healthcare facility challenges, not only making spaces more adaptable but helping providers better predict costs and reduce risk.

A growing number of healthcare providers realize that prefab and modular aren’t just design concepts. They are solutions that can help control how they deliver premium healthcare services for the future.

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DIRTT is a global leader in industrialized construction. Its system of physical products and digital tools empowers organizations, together with construction and design leaders, to build high-performing, adaptable, interior environments. Operating in the workplace, healthcare, education, and public sector markets, DIRTT’s system provides total design freedom, and greater certainty in cost, schedule, and outcomes. DIRTT trades on Nasdaq (DRTT) and on the Toronto Stock Exchange (DRT).

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