Take the time to create a mock-up of your new space—or face the consequences

May 17, 2018

Seven aspects of healthcare design mock-ups you need to know right now


By Marybeth Dietz and Kent Davidson

Picture the optimistic mood at a new patient unit on the first day of operations, everything shiny and new. That is, until the equipment and accessories arrive and are installed and, much to the hospital administrators’ dismay, don’t fit in the patient room as expected. The heights of the custom millwork do not work well for the nurses. There is not enough clearance to maneuver around the equipment—it’s a logistics nightmare.

Could this have been avoided? Absolutely.

This is precisely why we mock-up patient rooms and other spaces in major healthcare projects and renovations. It helps us to make decisions and avoid costly misunderstandings. It tests our decisions and assumptions in three dimensions.

While considerations such as minimum code-required dimensions and equipment clearances technically work on paper, there is nothing more valuable than simulating the proposed space and demonstrating the difference between minimums and best practices in a tangible way. A trial run of the space at a life-sized scale can further refine the design experience, discovering issues that would be otherwise difficult to realize from traditional drawings. Ultimately, it results in a better space with a better user and patient experience.


Example of a patient room mock-up complete with finishes and potential window view.


Here are some ways of thinking about mock-ups that we have found to be successful in our design practice for healthcare:


1. Mock-ups are worth it; they can even save you money.

The progression of each new phase along the project path adds a zero to the cost of any revisions made. Mock-ups allow clients an opportunity to address issues early in the process to mitigate surprises and expensive changes later down the road.  

_q_tweetable:A trial run of the space at a life-sized scale can further refine the design experience, discovering issues that would be otherwise difficult to realize from traditional drawings._q_


2. Mock-ups have multiple audiences and functions. 

Mock-ups can serve clinical users, leadership, specialists in infection control, support staff, and even regulatory officials. Nurses and physicians can use the mock-up to run scenarios and test their procedures. The public can tour mock-ups to provide feedback for administrators and designers. It is often a good idea for contractors to see a mock-up to confirm the design intent.


3. Mock-ups are beneficial during all phases of design.

Mock-ups assist with the organization of spaces during programming and with adjacencies during schematic design. They help layer detail after major decisions have been made in design development and serve to confirm the outcomes of earlier decisions during construction administration.


4. The scope of mock-ups can vary.

Mock-ups can be used to visualize key design elements that are in dispute amongst stakeholders. They can also be used to look at the layout of one space or before adopting a new system across an entire unit. When a mock-up isn’t feasible, it’s helpful for a client to visit an existing location to identify successful details to implement in the space.


5. The level of detail may vary depending on the who, where, and why. 

The level of detail required in a mock-up is defined by its purpose—what decisions need to be made from it. Once established, the information can be expressed in a variety of ways—from cardboard layouts of entire suites to insulation board that economically mimics room configurations, or vendor product mock-ups—actual finishes seen in their final configuration—to virtual reality.

In most cases, however, detail is a plus. Any additional realism the team can provide will help elicit more accurate and effective information from the users. Don’t have the actual item? Tape up a photocopy to do the trick. The key is to simulate the experience by any means possible to help users understand the relationship of elements in space.


An example of a final patient room after a mock-up (seen in the above image), which utilized final finishes and simulated the view from the room.


6. A mock-up can be done almost anywhere.

If the right-size space is available, mock-ups can be built offsite—we’ve done them in our raw space in Chicago, for example. Locally, they can be built on an unfinished floor, in an underutilized room, or in the first phase of construction where demolition has cleared a path. Ideally, a mock-up can be built between the actual stud walls where its final version will reside.


7. Mock-ups are just the beginning.

A mock-up is a tool for communication. It brings stakeholders together in a simulated space, where they can react to the design, share feedback, review issues, and resolve conflicts. No two clients are alike, and no two end users perform their duties the same way. It’s crucial to record the user input from the mock-up and implement a system for organizing, tracking, and resolving issues that the mock-up unearths. Providing our clients with the opportunity to understand daily operations in a new space keeps everyone on the same page and maximizes individual care and patient experiences.


About the authors

Marybeth Dietz is a medical planner, lean operations specialist, and senior project architect, coordinating among all disciplines and leading the work effort in document production.

Kent Davidson is senior project manager in the Stantec Healthcare Practice Group and based in Chicago. He has extensive experience managing comprehensive multi-consultant teams.

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