Designing a space for a rural healthcare provider can present a very different set of concerns and priorities from designing a similar program for a hospital in an urban setting. Even the most basic persistent challenges facing rural healthcare providers, such as low patient volume, patient and payer mixes, and geographic isolation, are enough to set these providers apart as clients that require a different design approach from their urban or suburban counterparts.
In the following post, we walk through some of the key design topics that our healthcare team focuses on when working with healthcare providers located in more rural or remote areas.
Flexibility is a critical factor in every healthcare project, but it takes on an added urgency in designing for a more remote healthcare provider. Most rural and less populated areas do not have the patient volume to sustain dedicated specialty practices. For that reason, it is common for specialists to rotate through a given location on a weekly or other basis. This structure for providing care demands flexible, multi-specialty exam rooms and associated spaces that can serve the needs of a variety of visiting specialists.
Telemedicine and Telehealth
A growing trend in rural healthcare is the use of telemedicine to connect patients with specialists, who are typically clustered in urban centers near large hospital systems. However, for a rural healthcare provider to fully leverage the opportunities of telemedicine, the provider must develop a coherent system, including the requisite technology and management. Recently, the FGI Guidelines for Design and Construction have provided direction on the design of these environments, emphasizing the need to differentiate telemedicine spaces from standard exam rooms. Telemedicine spaces have different requirements for paint sheen, camera mounting height, and lighting, especially the color temperature and a high CRI (color rendering index), acknowledging that these spaces must support the needs of virtual consultations.
Attracting Medical Talent
Rural areas in the US have suffered from a shortage of healthcare professionals for decades. While improving healthcare outcomes is a priority in our design process, we emphasize the importance of healthcare spaces as workplaces, too. The ability to attract and then retain staff, especially primary care doctors, is a critical design goal that we consider for every major project.
The size of the community being served is another critical difference between a rural healthcare provider and an urban one. If a city resident travels to one of several behavioral health providers in their urban area, it’s not likely that they encounter their neighbor. The story is different in a small community where there may be only a single behavioral health clinic. In order to maintain patient privacy, we bring different patient groups together into the same waiting room.
Creating an Identity
Healthcare facilities are often the newest and most expensive facilities in a community. In an urban setting, “creating an identity” can be an afterthought, but for rural areas, a strong design identity can serve as a strong advantage for community relations and institutional marketing. These buildings and spaces can also serve as a way to draw in new community members as well as attract medical talent.