Preparing to Face Top Building Trends in Health Care

While the health care systems in the U.S. and Australia are dramatically different in structure, the newest trends that are driving health care design, construction and management aspects are surprisingly similar.

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In mid-March, Rick Rome, executive vice president and national health care practice director, embarked on a trip Down Under to share information regarding global health care trends and innovations with architects, developers and facility managers.

Through presentations at the Australia National Healthcare Week conference in Sydney and interviews and articles with Australian publications, Rome shared knowledge gained over the course of his 35-year career to forecast what’s coming next in the field.

Sharing Trends in Health Care

The similarity in trends facing the U.S. and Australia health care markets were a recurring topic of discussion throughout Rome’s trip. In an article that appeared in The Urban Developer, he identified the top three trends facing both markets: advanced information technology; rapidly rising operating costs; and “merger mania.”

Overall, Rome believes the advancements in information technology – from wearables, to allowance of information flow, to IT system resiliency – to be the most significant driver of the health care business over the next couple of years.

“IT advances will allow information to flow, securely and simultaneously, from practitioner to practitioner for effective collaboration between disciplines,” Rome said. “In addition to increasing the overall resilience of IT systems – across power, mechanicals and wiring – this greater intelligence will support the industry move towards more diagnostic space with enhanced support systems and fewer examination rooms.”

Additionally, mergers seen across health care systems and related companies in the U.S. will soon begin having an increased impact globally. Major U.S. health care entities, including the Cleveland Clinic and MD Anderson, are establishing international partnerships and building new facilities in the Middle East, Europe and China.

Operating costs will also remain a key focus globally. While health care insurance programs differ drastically, Australia and the U.S. are both seeing rising costs. Overall costs to patients are inevitably rising as insurance companies are pushing risk to health care systems and consumers.

“Because of this, health care systems are looking to become leaner in their operations, and the one place they go back to repeatedly is the push on energy and operating costs,” Rome said. “Health care systems are increasingly investing capital in energy reduction methods.”


Rick Rome cited Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas as an example of a facility that achieved the owners’ health care goals with a small ecological footprint.

Different Paths to Energy Reduction

The focus on energy reduction was at the core of the presentation Rome made to the Australia National Healthcare Week conference. His presentation, “Charting Paths to Sustainability,” provided an overview of the various ways that two projects for which the firm provided mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering approached energy reduction targets – and the benefits realized by doing so.

“From our perspective, our business is about providing an environment for helping people get well,” Rome said during his presentation. “This starts with a healthy building philosophy and for WSP USA, sustainability is the key to delivering a healing environment for patients and demonstrating it to the community.”

To show how sustainable design benefits have played out in real-world designs, Rome shared an overview of Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, which used sustainability to make a statement to the community; and Phoenix Children’s Hospital, which achieved sustainability and economic viability without certification.

Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas used a number of sustainable control measures to help achieve the owner’s goal of creating a facility that showcased a vision of providing the best health care for children and the best workplace for staff with a small ecological footprint. These measures contributed to two notable achievements for the hospital, including an estimated $1.5 million in energy savings and LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council – the first hospital in the world to achieve this level.

Contributing sustainable systems included individual control capabilities; occupancy sensors and daylight harvesting; carbon dioxide monitoring in high-occupancy areas; low-flow plumbing fixtures resulting in 1.3 million gallons of water savings annually; and an energy measurement and verification system.

In the case of Phoenix Children’s Hospital, goals set at the beginning of the project supported sustainability. The staff believed in a sustainable footprint, but economic realities that impacted the building budget meant that sustainable goals also needed to have an economic payback. The team wrote its own “Phoenix Children’s Hospital Green Guide to Healthcare” in order to save the hospital operational costs over time and support public relations with the community.

The guide outlined several targets, including high-energy efficiency, central plant operational optimization, solar modeling for maximum energy efficiency, water-saving fixtures and sensors, optimized high-efficiency lighting and LED where feasible, and set-up for future implementation of other goals.

As a result of sustainable design efforts, the hospital achieved a number of savings and played a significant role in qualifying for a $4.5 million federal energy grant, as well as a central energy plant that played a major role in $850,000 utility cost savings per year, reduced water usage by 5.8 million gallons, and reduced greenhouse gasses to 20 percent below standard.


A “Green Guide to Healthcare” was created to save the Phoenix Children’s Hospital operational costs over time and support public relations with the community. 

Sharing Knowledge

Overall, Rome’s trip provided an opportunity to share knowledge in a field that is not only experiencing rapid global growth, but is also becoming increasingly interconnected across borders.

“The health care field has a lot of differences from country to country,” Rome acknowledged. “However, as we continue working on projects internationally and collaborating with colleagues and clients across the globe, it’s striking how much we are facing the same things – and how similar the field is becoming when you look a few years down the road.”

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