HC Design R&D Undervalued

Posted on March 20, 2012


Sometimes I hear a little cynicism pollute the air when a remark is made to the effect that ‘there’s no magic’ to healthcare design.

There may not be magic at work per se; however, the role of progressive thinking, benchmarking and innovation on the design and construction sides of a project is often overlooked. In fact, it is invisible research and development (R&D) that ultimately provides a lot of additional value to owners.

Large, international design practices are expected to have R&D departments now, especially for intensively regulated and program-driven market sectors like healthcare. But many smaller A, A/E, CM and design-build firms have ongoing R&D efforts behind the scenes that help shape their practices as well.

The fruits of R&D are sometimes not apparent at first, but end up trickling down from the singular source into our every day life. For instance, the U.S. Space Program (R.I.P.) through NASA was known as a source of excellent R&D that lead to materials innovations and numerous other patents which filtered down into our lives through the commercial application of R&D ideas.

Likewise, the high performance concept cars and touring prototypes unveiled at the annual auto shows are designed for grueling road races or to achieve certain design goals. They contain improvements that will eventually be incorporated into future luxury maker models, and then make it into your and my family sedans and SUVs in a couple years. Every consumer product today benefits from R&D on some level.

The same happens in healthcare building design and construction. For example, evidence-based design data helps initiate change in design thinking through study and research. Not all data leads to conclusive, dominant thinking, but it pushes debate on industry improvement, such as the merits of same-handed room design.

R&D skeptics can take solace in the fact that research dollars are not wasted effort and resources; your project dollars are not lost on frivolous ideas. Research and development is legitimate boundary-crossing work on both broadly theoretical and project specific aspects of healthcare—and essential to the growth and competitiveness of firms who execute projects.

So the next time your review a fee, it may include a bit for R&D efforts required by your project. Firms often like to talk about what they are working on provided confidences are kept. So ask. It may help you and your Board to know that a portion of the professional service fees paid are being returned to you and your community indirectly through project improvements you might otherwise never have known about.