By Kristin Moore
Technology has rendered many types of retail spaces unviable. Video rental stores (ironically they haven’t lent out videotape for years!) for example are becoming extinct thanks to the ability of audiences to gather movies from the internet. So what to do with this type of real estate, that which is most often found in neighbourhood strip malls? One of the best ways to take advantage of such locations is to insert a tenant who needs parking for visitors and a location in or near residential areas. The best would be healthcare providers.
Dentists, MDs, specialists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, psychologists, etc. can take advantage of these abandoned retail spaces and be closer to their patients – likely with a more reasonable lease than they would find in city centres. But how can they turn such spaces into facilities that will suit their individual practice and their patients’ comfort?
Even in traditional medical buildings there are challenges. How to support technology and equipment that is ever changing and upgrading? How to support new medical practices and discoveries? In a space designed entirely for another purpose, these issues can seem insurmountable and perhaps not worth pursuing.
One method that can answer these challenges without breaking the bank is custom, prefab interior construction. The speed and cleanness of interior modular construction means other tenants will not be disrupted and the move-in is faster. If the prefab walls and modular power elements are product-neutral the healthcare provider can integrate whatever furniture, fixtures, equipment and technology they require. Since there is now the ability to create custom sizes and elevations of walls, doors and millwork – any space, even an ex-video store can be recalibrated to suit something as radically different as a medical surgery suite.
Plumbing and med gasses will be a vital part of any healthcare space. By having modular walls that also allow post-occupancy access to the cavity the tenants or landlord can maintain and/or replace the medical equipment and plumbing without time-consuming and messy renovations. This same platform is prepared to accept any new technologies that come along.
An issue never faced by the video store owner was speech privacy, however in a medical clinic, this is of utmost importance. Appropriate acoustics need to be addressed on many levels. Ceiling tiles, flooring choices, wall finishes, placement of air exchange and sound masking are all capable of making any space suitable for confidential discussions between physician and patient.
For nearly all healthcare providers these days, the space is less about creating a clinical feeling and more about an environment of comfort and calm. In fact, there is a medical office building in the United States that is looking to European hotels rather than hospitals for inspiration. Instead of entering a waiting area with other patients, who may or may not be contagious, a concierge greets you and gives you a key card to your exam room.
Just like the video store before it, the healthcare tenant will be faced with changing technologies that will affect the way they work with their clientele. Unlike the movie rental stores, healthcare professionals are embracing technology and delving more into telemedicine and long-distance patient/physician collaboration. To do this, the leased space must be open to the integration of cameras, microphones, TV screens and wireless devices. The easier it is to bring these seamlessly into the environment, the longer a healthcare tenant can stay in the space.
From a Good Citizen point of view, moving healthcare facilities deeper into neighbourhoods may even help the healthcare system overall by alleviating pressure on the hospital emergency departments. Doctors and other medical professionals have more choices for setting up clinics and can be closer to their own homes, particularly if they know they can create a patient-friendly space in just about any location.
Kristin Moore, LEED® AP – DIRTT Environmental Solutions, Director of Healthcare Solutions
Kristin Moore leads DIRTT for Healthcare at DIRTT Environmental Solutions. She is an industry veteran, having previously worked at both Haworth and SMED International. Kristin is a founder of DIRTT, the manufacturer of modular interior solutions. She is an advocate of cost-effective, agile and sustainable design solutions, and works extensively in the healthcare arena. Kristin understands the demands imposed by 21st century healthcare environments and how modular construction meets these for various healthcare audiences: patients and their families, medical staff, facility managers and owners.