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DIRTT healthcare specialist talks key design trends

The DIRTT team just returned from the annual Healthcare Design Expo and Conference (HCD) – a large healthcare gathering in the United States connecting industry experts from across the country. Attending these types of events gives us insight on how to better prepare our clients for the future of healthcare facilities. This year’s conference on design and innovation, for both hospital and clinical environments, didn’t disappoint! We couldn’t help but notice key trends that stood out from the rest.

Let’s take a deep dive into how these changes will disrupt the U.S. healthcare industry in the coming months:


Enhancing evidence-based design with VR

Evidence-based design in healthcare uses strategic research and testing as a base for healthcare design. It isn’t a new concept. Being able to walk through and experience the healthcare space before designs are finalized is an important part of the process. It engages the clinicians and allows them to provide feedback.

Until now, this has been supported with paper mock-ups. At DIRTT, we take these mockups virtual. Our clients have the opportunity to explore their designs via our virtual reality platform, which is an extension of our ICE software. This fully-immersive exploration of their space, which we call ICEreality, gives the sensation of what it’s like to be in the completed project. ICE also allows clients to modify their designs on the fly. For instance, if a healthcare team was walking through their future hospital, they could make instant changes to the room sizes or finishes in the space. At the same time, all of the pricing and manufacturing information needed to build the interior is automatically generated on the back end – providing a breakdown of what this change means for the project. 

Clients exploring their future space in VR Clients exploring their future space in VR

As technology continues to progress, additional tools are emerging to support these efforts. Advanced virtual reality design tools are on the horizon that have the potential to take this innovation to the next level. This includes running detailed simulations in virtual mockups. Mimicking how a space would operate, and testing and measuring various situations provides rich data to back up design decisions. Think clash detection and the creation of spaghetti diagrams, which automatically track the walking paths of hospital and clinical staff - but empowered by virtual reality technology. It will allow for more detailed testing as to how a future space will perform. And since the functionality is of the utmost importance in healing environments, it means eliminating error in design. Using this forward-thinking technology will allow spaces to be designed and tailored to specific organizations, staff, and patients.  

New care options

Another key influencer on healthcare is changing demographics. As the millennial population slowly takes over as patients, they have different desires and demands on the industry. This thought can be summed up in a mere sentence: millennials value convenience. They grew up in a technology boom. All types of information and services are available to them at all times. Having these resources at their fingertips (literally) is their norm.

How will the industry respond? The concept of micro-hospitals has great potential. In the past, hospitals have been built to be large in size – serving a sizable quadrant of the city or town they call home. Micro-hospitals are providing the exact same services a hospital would, but are smaller and more abundant. For instance, in the past, a quadrant of the city might have one large hospital. However, the micro-hospital shift would see this one hospital split up into multiple smaller hospitals – perhaps 4 or 5. These micro-hospitals also provide the opportunity to be more specialized for specific communities. Does this area have a lot of seniors? Young families? These micro-hospitals can hone in on a specific clientele. For patients, this means more accessible healthcare, closer to where they live and work. 

Technology integration is also making healthcare more accessible. This comes as no surprise as technology has revolutionized every part of our modern world. Specifically, in healthcare, telehealth (or telemedicine), which is the connection between patients and practitioners via telecommunications, is becoming more and more common. This new type of care allows patients to consult with their doctors, without having to make the drive to healthcare facilities. It's especially helpful in more rural communities. Medical facilities will see a design shift as there will be an increasing need for hardware integration to support these types of technology-based services. As technology plays more and more of a role, it will in the physical environment, too. 

(Bonus trend: Stay tuned for wearable technology!)

Integrated tech in a DIRTT clinic Integrated tech in a DIRTT clinic

Digital construction

The third and final stand-out healthcare design trend has to do with the building method itself. An offsite, multi-trade, manufactured approach to healthcare construction is on the rise - for good reason. This isn’t a surprise to DIRTT, as we’ve been pushing this same message since our expansion into healthcare in 2009. However, what made this a powerful message is who it came from at the healthcare conference. An industry-leading healthcare provider led a session around why they switched to a manufactured approach to building their facilities. And when a company with this type of reputation talks, people listen.

One main reason this organization's representative noted for switching to on-site assembly, rather than on-site construction, was the speed of delivery. This healthcare company's representative said that their overall construction schedule per facility could be shortened by 6 to 9 months using this method. These schedule savings would need to be factored into the overall cost, as it meant they could open their doors and start treating patients half a year sooner (at minimum). They see accelerating the speed of delivery to market as a huge win - rightfully so.

A manufactured approach also meant that they could streamline design. They shortened design time and reduced variation among their facilities. This drives costs down further. All in all, this would help them deliver efficient spaces with consistent branding and experiences in their facilities. It’s no doubt this industry-leader will set a new standard for designing and building quality healthcare spaces. 

Components arrive on-site for clean install Components arrive on-site for clean install
A DIRTT healthcare space mid-assembly A DIRTT healthcare space mid-assembly

Here at DIRTT, we’re excited for these healthcare design trends on the horizon. They’ll ultimately make healthcare organizations and their patients’ lives easier. These shifts in delivery will ensure healthcare environments are meeting the demands of today’s world.  

DIRTT neonatal intensive care unit DIRTT neonatal intensive care unit

Chelsea Barlow

Before joining DIRTT as a healthcare specialist, Chelsea worked in a hospital setting for over 10 years. Her deep knowledge and passion for bringing efficiency to the industry is what drives her to help others leverage DIRTT’s unique approach.


DIRTT Environmental Solutions uses its 3D software to create prefabricated interiors. Each space is tailored to our clients' needs. Manufacturing facilities are located in Phoenix, Savannah and Calgary. DIRTT works with nearly 100 Partners throughout North America, the Middle East and Asia. DIRTT trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol "DRT".