A refurbished hospital should be a wonderful place to work or receive treatment. When it’s done well, refurbishment turns an outdated facility into a well-designed, well-equipped therapeutic environment with a streamlined layout that makes life easier for both staff and patients. 

But how does the show go on in the meantime? What happens when the usual space is sealed off for construction? Will you be delivering babies in the basement (aka the temporary maternity ward) or performing echocardiograms in a storage cupboard? Do things have to get worse for a time before they get better? 

Hospital renovations take many months or even years to complete, meaning that you need a viable way to maintain care during construction. 

Shutting down sections of a hospital is costly, in both clinical and financial terms. But workarounds are often less than ideal and can negatively impact staff morale and patient experience. 

Patient flow is often severely disrupted by temporary solutions that shunt operations into whatever spaces can be made available. That’s because:

“Achieving hospital-wide patient flow, and ultimately improving outcomes and the experience of care for patients, requires an appreciation of the hospital as an interconnected, interdependent system of care.” 

Institute for Healthcare Improvement 

To maintain patient flow, the temporary facility used during refurbishment should be at least as good as the current one. But wouldn’t it be even better if the temporary solution was already an improvement on what came before? If it was, in itself, a positive step on the road to renovation? 

That’s why using a mobile facility during refurbishment eclipses other options. 

Clinical benefits of mobile facilities

A mobile facility can: 

  • Be constructed in a matter of months, meaning procedures can continue without disruption while the refurbishment is completed 
  • Replicate the typical features of the facility it is replacing (operating room, ward etc), which ensures staff can do their jobs efficiently
  • Easily meet all levels of compliance – insulation, air filtration, energy efficiency, hygiene etc.
  • Be placed wherever it will best support the delivery of care. 
    • A mobile operating room for example, can either be connected to the hospital or function as a standalone facility that admits and discharges its own patients.  
  • Improve patient experience
    • Can be placed right next to the parking area so that patients with limited mobility, for example, no longer need to walk long distances across a large hospital complex 
    • Can be placed into a green environment to support patient and staff wellbeing
  • Offer unparalleled flexibility
      • Bespoke solution that genuinely addresses each hospital’s unique needs
      • Can be repurposed (e.g. as surge capacity or for the next stage of a refurbishment) 
  • Reduce wastage
        • Built offsite with a lower carbon footprint than traditional builds
        • Can be recycled when no longer needed.

Providing clinical care in mobile facilities

Clinical care, of course, depends a great deal on the clinicians providing it. Clinical staff spend far more time in healthcare facilities than patients do so those facilities need to be designed to promote a pleasant and functional working environment. 

A staff-friendly healthcare facility may take many forms but common features include increasing access to daylight, minimising noise and other distractions and promoting safety by positioning items within easy reach. 

As the Harvard Business Review observes 

“Designing buildings for the well-being of health care staff is not just necessary to curb the mental health crisis among the profession. It’s also critical to buttress the financial fallout that ensues with high turnover, preventing additional strain on a system already taxed from financial losses due to deferred treatment during the pandemic.”

Clinicians need a bespoke facility that is fit for purpose. Clinicians want reassurance that the design will maximise throughput and patient flow and provide a safe environment. 

That can all be easily delivered. Bespoke facilities are designed in collaboration with clinicians – and they’re often delighted with the results. 

In our experience, almost all users become “converts” once they step inside…” write the authors of one study into modular facilities. 

One Finnish health manager reported that the modular facility was the only part of the hospital that staff did not complain about. 

In Melbourne, Professor Paul Myles, Director of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine at The Alfred Hospital said that their mobile operating theatre (installed after storm damage to the main operating room) “exceeded expectations.”

Staff at The Prince Charles Hospital (TPCH) in Brisbane are similarly delighted with their mobile and modular endoscopy suite, which comprises a dual-procedure operating theatre, decontamination suite and 8-bed recovery ward. Jo Lougheed, Director of Infrastructure Planning and Capital Projects at Metro North Hospital and Health Service said, 

“We looked carefully at how we could tweak the environment to meet our model of care and make sure our clinicians were happy with their working environment… Everyone is really happy with the result – it’s light and bright and the quality of the clinical environment is very high. Their team took our ideas and made them deliverable.”

Ann Vandeleur, Project Nurse Manager at TPCH, said, “It is amazing what has been achieved in the space. It has been carefully designed to achieve everything we want and need it to, and at the standards we need….People couldn’t believe what was being created, and so quickly.”  

An opportunity to draw boundaries

Mobile and modular healthcare facilities often provide the opportunity for more structure, both for services and staff. 

In the UK and, to some extent, in Australia, there are efforts to ringfence a specific surgical space away from the main hospital. These ‘surgical hubs’ exist to progress elective surgeries without the disruption usually created by the emergency department or, in recent years, COVID-19 (patients are screened before arrival). They’re also an excellent training ground for junior surgeons. 

Interestingly, many such hubs run on set shifts, or even 8-6 opening hours, allowing greater work-life balance for clinical staff. That has great benefits for staff retention, making it easier for staff with young families or those nearing retirement age to enjoy the challenge of clinical work without the difficulties caused by night shifts or constantly changing rosters. 

Bespoke facilities can also be designed with staff needs in mind. In Roehampton, UK, a bespoke, standalone, modular surgical treatment centre was built in the car park of Queen Mary’s Hospital. This surgical hub focuses on high-volume, low-complexity procedures in a number of different surgical specialties. Its design included a large, comfortable, light and airy staff room, which provides a space for staff to enjoy breaks. A paper in the British Journal of Healthcare Management notes, 

“The staff room is valued highly among staff as an area that contributes to everyone’s wellbeing and is considered a big strength of the hub. Overall, staff are often happier to work in the hub than the acute site, with a strong sense of commitment to the work carried out there.”

If you’d like to explore the clinical benefits of mobile healthcare facilities at your hospital, please contact Q-bital Healthcare Solutions.