Emergency Departments are the “front door” of most hospitals. Consequently, as the dependency on Emergency Departments continues to evolve and fluctuate so too must the efficient processing of patient-assessment protocols. To keep up with patient-processing trends, the Emergency Department has had to reinvent itself to accommodate a diversity of clinical needs: from areas for rapid assessment to spaces for longer-term patient accommodations that require more complex care. In a modern clinical setting, every inch of an Emergency Department must be flexible and offer various treatment capabilities within the same space. Function-specific rooms must be designed to allow for a diverse continuum of care on an “on-demand” basis.

Through technology and advancements in tele-medicine, ERs increasingly are finding ways to assess patients prior to their arrival at the hospital. Additionally, arriving patients are segregated based on a variety of factors: to address patient-illness concerns and acuity levels, to alleviate congestions, to allow deployment to the most efficient treatment “zones” within the department. Add to that our most recent functional-use driver, the pandemic. It is important to note that while most clinicians, nurses and physicians were ready for the fight, most ER’s physical environments were not prepared for such an event.

It is time for all healthcare designers to align our clients’ clinical expertise to that of their physical environment! We must assure that our clients are offered multiple functional options for each “treatment station” within the limits of the entire Emergency Department. Prior to 2020, many executives and institution leaders referred to their grand plans for the future as “Vision 2020”. It was meant as a reference to how clearly they could see the future and how promising it “appeared.”

While the future is not always clear, we can use past experiences to guide us as we move forward. Within the BA Heath Studio, we have chosen to allow “Vision 2020” to become the inspiration for “Renaissance 2.0” by allowing the current situation to reinforce the need for innovative design approaches. Healthcare providers need functional-use solutions that do not limit treatment approaches nor the flexibility of clinical use; spaces that allow “nursing” to not only occur through treatment processes but also through sincere expressions of concern and the understanding that each other’s well-being is the true contagion that fuels the soul. The expressions typically visible on the faces of most clinicians, nurses and physicians when caring for their patients is part of the treatment plan. It is said that compassion heals; therefore, it is time for architecture to be the catalyst for healthcare delivery options that are not simply a reaction to the unknown.

Written by Luis Sousa, RA, NCARB, RID Partner, Vice President-in-Charge, Healthcare Design and Architecture