Medical Architecture Requires Special Care

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The healthcare industry is a highly specialized and unique field. As such, designing a medical facility, whether it be a hospital or general practice office, requires architects to have in-depth knowledge of medical design and give special attention to the client's specific needs, thus creating a foundation that allows providers to operate to their fullest potential and offer optimal patient care.

An architect's understanding of a medical practice's function and goals is integral to meeting the needs of the practice. There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when designing medical buildings, such as the staff, patients, special equipment, and strict standards and codes.

Of course, standard practice for designing any facility should be to design for all end users. In the case of the healthcare industry, this includes not only patients but also medical personnel working within the facility. When designing hospitals and medical office buildings, it is just as important to consider the overall health of the staff as well as that of the patients.

Workers in all areas of the healthcare industry have demanding jobs that seemingly stretch them in all directions. Creating spaces and environments that support them and their roles as caregivers is not only important when it comes to maintaining and recruiting quality staff, but it also affords workers opportunities to provide better patient care.

Just as a cluttered workspace generates feelings of chaos and disorganization, a poorly designed healthcare facility will hinder staff from performing to the best of their abilities. Staff satisfaction is key to retaining qualified workers, which directly affects patient care.

Function and Flow

Functional efficiency is key to the success of every healthcare facility. A medical building should be designed so staff and patient traffic flow is seamless. The placement of exam rooms, laboratory services, and checkout areas should be well thought out and promote optimal traffic flow.

For example, in a hospital or emergency room setting, where a busy environment is the norm, staff mobility is of particular importance. Planning for foot-traffic patterns is an essential element to consider when designing medical space, as functionality ultimately boosts productivity and satisfaction.

A medical office that flows easily allows staff to function at their best, providing the highest level of service and care to patients. A smoothly functioning facility allows staff to see as many patients as possible, providing patients with minimal wait time, which reduces patient anxiety and promotes a positive workplace, increasing the happiness of both patients and staff.

Medical Equipment

Another element of design that is unique to the healthcare industry and must be taken into consideration in the design process is medical equipment. The coordination of specialized equipment and medical systems such as medical gases, electrical generators, lighting, and mechanical equipment is integral to the effectiveness of the medical staff.

Not only does equipment need to be considered throughout the design process, but the design itself must also be forward thinking and flexible enough to accommodate new technologies and equipment that may be available and utilized in the future.

Standards and Codes

Medical facilities require specific design guidelines, which are detailed by the American Institute of Architects. The organization provides general guidelines for all healthcare facilities as well as specific procedures for hospitals, ambulatory care facilities, and nursing facilities. The State Health Department is an essential player in the review and approval process of facility design. Consultants and medical equipment should be identified and designed within applicable building codes and coordinated with different disciplines.

Green Building

Sustainable-design principles should have a place in every building, no matter the industry. Not only does incorporating green building design have environmental benefits, but it also reduces capital expenses and greatly reduces operating costs over the life of a building.

Green building design also impacts the quality of life and performance of a building's inhabitants. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, employee productivity and business profitability are linked. Studies have shown increases in employee productivity when buildings are designed with occupants in mind, in which natural light, comfortable temperatures, and a quiet work environment are the most important issues. Research also suggests that a well-designed workplace can increase employee productivity by 20%.

Incorporating sustainable design into a medical facility has a positive impact on medical personnel, contributing to the overall productivity of the staff and, in turn, raising the level of care for patients.

Interior Design

The architect's job should not be limited to the structure of the facility. The exterior of the building is an expression and should be carried through the entire building. It is important to employ an architect who is involved in the interior design of the facility.

The interior design of a healthcare facility is especially important to its patients. Staff should be able to function efficiently, but the environment should also be comfortable and pleasant to put patients at ease. Design, color, and lighting all come into play when creating spaces, but the medical aspect shifts the architectural focus to one of healing and stability.

Going to the doctor can be a nerve-wracking experience for many. The atmosphere should be warm and welcoming, particularly for those who require long-term care. Integrating rich colors and the right décor can create a relaxing environment, helping to ease patients' anxiety. Utilizing natural light is not only a great way to incorporate green design into a medical building, but it also can help create a relaxing environment for patients. Smart interior design should not only be featured in the waiting room area but also throughout the facility and especially in the exam rooms.

Designing for the medical industry takes special expertise and care. It is important to create a serene and efficient environment that is conducive to the overall well-being of medical personnel, patients, and visitors alike.

About the Author

Roy Burson, AIA, is the principal in charge at JVC Architects, a Las Vegas-based architecture firm specializing in community-based design. The firm has designed award-winning medical buildings including Desert Inn Medical Plaza and Dr. Samuel Kim's Dental Office. To contact the firm, call 702-871-3416 or visit its website at

As principal in charge, Roy Burson utilizes his 20 years of architectural experience to lead the team at JVC Architects, a prestigious firm that specializes in commercial, religious, medical, and public work design. In addition to researching, planning, designing, and administering building projects, he is responsible for managing the staff, developing new business, and maintaining client relations.
Several high-profile projects for which Burson led the JVC design team include Paradise Park Recreation Center, which was honored with a 2004 Innovative Architecture & Design Award from Recreation Management; Lake Mead Christian Academy; and Dr. Samuel Kim's Dental Office. He also served on the design team for Fairway Business Plaza, which received a Best of 2004 Award from Southwest Contractor, and Edmond Oquendo Professional Building, a JVC Architects and Clover Development collaboration.

Burson began his architectural career in 1989 at Richard Luke Architects, where he concentrated on drafting and presentation. After three successful years, he began working for Pete Larez, RD, where he received design experience in addition to drafting and presentation experience. Finally, Burson joined JVC Architects in 1994, where he has since been, and became principal in charge in 2002. In 2004, he co-founded the development arm of JVC Architects.

A native of Las Vegas, Burson graduated from Western High School and attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in architecture in 1993. Four years later, Burson received a master's degree in architecture from the University of New Mexico.

Burson currently serves on the board of directors for the American Institute of Architects (AIA), where he has been committee chair of the AIA Golf and Putting Tournaments for the previous two years. This is also his second year as secretary for the Council of Education Facility Planners International (CEFPI) board. He has served on several committees for CEFPI, including "Celebration of Progress" 2005 and "School Building Week" 2005, and he participated in CEFPI's "School Building Week" 2006. An advocate of the community, Burson has been a participant in Canstruction, an annual design/build competition benefiting the Community Food Bank, since 2003.
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