This is a continuing series from Huddy HealthCare Solution’s ED Design Team that covers “issues to consider” in support of making your ED design project a success.

A Rare Opportunity to Design Your ED

Participating on your in-house ED design team may be a once-in-a-life-time opportunity. While other departments such as surgery, oncology, and birthing services, tend to get redesigned every five years, or at least that’s how it feels, the Emergency Department tends to get redesigned every 10 to 15 (or even 20!) years. So, when you get the opportunity to design your future ED you want to make sure you select the right professional designer to assist you in the process. While you may know how you want your future ED to operate, and you probably have many great design ideas, you will still need a professional ED designer to translate your ideas into a build-able solution. Selecting the right ED designer (i.e. architect) to assist you is the key to taking advantage of this outstanding opportunity to design your “Emergency Department of the future.”

Be Careful of “False Advertising”

An ED project usually begins with your healthcare organization selecting a design firm. The design firm may be an architectural firm, part of a design-build firm, or part of an integrated project delivery (IPD) team. What is important to you is identifying who, specifically, is going to be working with you to design the future ED. This is where you need to be careful and understand that it is the person (or people) designing your ED that will make it a success and not necessarily the larger corporate firm. Some large architectural firms have outstanding people working for them that have designed numerous EDs. However, some firms state that they have designed “hundreds of emergency departments” when in fact, they are pulling that experience from fifty or a hundred different people in their firm from across numerous office locations, most of which may never be on your specific project. Or, the ED projects the firs lists were actually completed 20 years ago by people no longer working with the firm. While working with an established architectural firm is recommended, be careful of being “sold” a design team that is comprised of people that, in fact, have little (or no) ED design experience.   This may be hard to believe, but I know of architectural firms that actually have ED designers listed on their websites, or have videos of designers discussing ED design issues on their websites, who are no longer working with that firm. Unbelievable, I know!

Successful Design Is Personal, Not Corporate

When you get the chance to redesign your emergency department you want to be able to sit down with someone, or a group of people, that you know, that you like, and that you trust. Your design professional should be able to draw on a wealth of successful ED design experiences. The design process is actually a very personal process where you will be relying on the “people” you work with to bring you new and innovative ideas. It’s the actual people you work with, and not the corporation, that will deliver success. Just because a firm states that it has “unmatched ED design experience” doesn’t mean you are getting that experience delivered to your specific design team. A “firm’s” experience doesn’t mean a thing to you if your designer doesn’t actually have that personal ED design experience. So, how do you make sure that you get a design team with personal ED design experience? You have to work hard to understand what you are actually getting (and who you are actually getting) with regards to an architectural firm’s proposed design team.

Ask Questions and Check References

The selection of an architect usually includes a written proposal by the design firm that will list the firm’s past ED design projects. Make sure that the firm’s proposal clearly delineates what is “corporate” ED design experience versus what is the “personal” experience of the actual people proposed on their design team. What I mean by “corporate” experience is the list of ED projects completed over many decades by the total firm (which might not have anything to do with the people proposed on your project). “Personal” experience is the list of ED projects that the people proposed on your design team have completed themselves.

The selection process usually continues with an interview of the proposed design team in front of you and your in-house representatives.   This is a chance for you to get a feel for the people with whom you might be teaming with to design your future ED. Ask the people representing the design firm about their personal ED design experiences. How many EDs have they personally designed? What type of ED design experiences will they bring to bear on your project? Ask for personal references from their past ED clients. This will allow you to call their past clients to find out if the people on the proposed design team brought innovation to past projects, were able to listen to their past clients, and were able to translate clinical needs and operational workflow into safe, efficient ED facility designs. In the end, hire the people that you feel most comfortable with, because you will be counting on them to work closely with you to design a truly great emergency department project.

This is Your Shot…Get it Right!

Designing an ED is different than designing a surgical suite, or a birthing center, so make sure you get a design team comprised of people that have designed emergency departments. You want the right design team, and the right people, to assist you in designing your future ED. Because, as you know, it could be 20 years before you get to redesign it! So, ask yourself “who is REALLY designing my future ED?”

If you would like more insights on firm selection or the architectural design process, please contact Jon Huddy at