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Marberry: 6 top issues confronting hospitals that can be helped by facility design

Penn State Health, Hampden Medical Center. Design: CannonDesign. Photography: Halkin Mason Photography. Source: Carolina.

Penn State Health, Hampden Medical Center, from Marberry's analysis of ACHE's 2022 survey of top issues confronting hospitals
Penn State Health, Hampden Medical Center. Design: CannonDesign. Photography: Halkin Mason Photography. Source: Carolina.

By Sara Marberry — This past week, the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) released the results of its 2022 survey of top issues confronting hospitals.

Not surprisingly, workforce challenges ranked No. 1. Financial challenges ranked second, and behavioral health / addiction issues ranked third, followed closely by patient safety, governmental mandates, and access to care.

I wasn’t able to get a hold of the full survey report, but as I read the summary on the ACHE website, I started thinking about how these survey results could be used by those of you who are planning and designing healthcare facilities.

Empathy is the essence of everything

It starts with empathy — putting yourself in someone else’s shoes who might not know what you know or think the way you think. This is true whether you’re an architect or designer trying to convince a hospital to hire you, a hospital facility executive trying to get approval for a project, or a vendor trying to sell products to a hospital.

You need to look at the person (or people) you want to influence and ask yourself two questions:

  1. What do they want that will make their jobs easier, their business prosper, and help serve their stakeholders better?
  2. What matters to them in their work that is meaningful, motivational, and fulfilling?

Once you answer these questions, you’ll have a better idea of what to say to them that will get them to take the action you want. Obviously, the best way to find the answers is to ask them directly.

But you can also use the ACHE survey results to get a better idea of the issues hospital CEOs are grappling with and how you can help them.

Top issues within the top issues confronting hospitals

Besides identifying 11 overall top issues, ACHE’s survey also identifies issues within each of those top issues. A lot of them have nothing to do with healthcare facility design. But many do.

Here are six issues for the top three that stood out for me:

  1. Burnout among non-physician staff: No. 3 workforce challenge issue. Lots of studies show how the design of the physical environment can help reduce stress, which is a major cause of burnout.
  2. Increasing costs for staff, supplies: No. 1 financial challenge issue. How much does it cost to replace a nurse again? Average is $46,000. A more supportive physical workplace environment can help with retention and potentially save hundreds of thousands each year.
  3. Reducing operating costs: No. 2 financial challenge issue. First thing that comes to mind here is that while it requires some investment, building more energy- and water-efficient facilities can save tons of money over a building’s lifespan.
  4. Competition from other providers: No. 7 financial challenge issue. Increasing market share is usually the reason health systems build new hospitals and outpatient facilities.
  5. Inadequate funding for capital improvements: No. 9 financial challenge issue. Facility design can support Environmental/Social/Governance (ESG) polices and attract investors.
  6. Lack of appropriate facilities/programs in community: No. 1 behavioral health/addiction issue. Clearly a challenge if you don’t have funding, but there’s an opportunity here to build new facilities or repurpose old ones.

I’m sure there are other issues identified in the other top issues of patient safety and quality, access to care, patient satisfaction, technology that relate to the physical environment.

So if you can, get a hold of the full report (I think you have to be an ACHE member, though) and start using this information in your presentations and conversations with hospital CEOs. And those of you who provide products and services can use it to craft your marketing messages, too.

Visit Sara Marberry’s Blog for this article and more reflections on healthcare design.