Reflections on a Conference

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I recently attended the Healthcare Design Expo and Conference, held this year in Washington, DC. This annual conference attracts approximately 4,000 architects, engineers, designers, suppliers, and healthcare clients from all around the country, and in addition to the large number of exhibits and other gatherings, it offers nearly 150 different workshops and sessions for the engagement and interaction of the attendees. It took me quite a while to select the fourteen that I would attend during the three-day conference. Here is just one highlight from those sessions.

Best Practices or Innovation?

One of the most interesting presentations I heard was at the American College of Healthcare Architects luncheon, where Don Orndoff, leader of Kaiser Permanente’s National Facilities Services gave a talk about the current projects at one of the country’s largest healthcare systems. They are doing billions (yes, with a “b”) of dollars of construction. Historically, Kaiser has been known for having templates and prototypes for everything from a typical exam room to a complete hospital (I know, I designed a Kaiser Permanente years ago and we had a complete manual of typical rooms we were expected to follow). Don spoke of the contrast between following best practices and innovating. In the former, you rely on time-tested experience to base your design decisions, and in the latter you are willing to try new things, perhaps even to fail when missing the mark. One approach is safer…the other provides more opportunity for growth and improvement.

His choice?

Given Kaiser’s history, it was surprising when Don said that their emphasis now is on innovation. Their recent experience has been that the templates and prototypes can be too constraining, and that the system needed to be broken apart in order to be more flexible and effective. Not only are they stressing innovation, but during the question and answer to follow he noted that as healthcare planners and architects, we need to find ways to share the results of our design experiments, so that our field can continue to move forward. I’m looking forward to seeing more about their efforts in California. It was really a great conversation!

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