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How The Design Of Medical Office Buildings Has Changed For Patient Experiences

The more experiential, the better for restaurants and shopping centers — but also medical office space?

“Medical office developers and their provider tenants are putting a heightened emphasis on design principles that enhance the overall patient experience," said Thorn Baccich, Flagship Healthcare Properties' vice president of development. 

That is because, despite strong MOB fundamentals, there will still be winners and losers in the sector. The winners will provide better patient experiences, as well as a solid mix of tenants and facilities of the right size and flexibility to thrive in a changing healthcare landscape.


Making Patients Comfortable

In the context of healthcare, experiential doesn't mean quite what it does for a retailer. For medical office space, the focus is on promoting good outcomes and making patients feel comfortable.

"The medical office experience is very much trending away from the sterile white-washed institutional feel and more toward the aesthetic that you’d expect in the hospitality industry," Baccich said. "This includes user-friendly wayfinding, comfortable waiting areas and amenities such as charging stations and self-serve coffee and snack bars."

Building and site footprints should lend themselves to ease of use and lower-stress experiences for patients, said Victor Creemens, Integra Realty Resources' managing director-healthcare & senior housing.

"Convenient parking, easily recognized drop-off areas, good signage and uncomplicated patient routes for ease of wayfinding, and limited patient walking distances are helpful," Cremeens said. "Open spaces with natural lighting, natural materials and appropriate color schemes help to reduce the stress felt by patients and their attendants."

Baccich said changing reimbursement models are putting more choice into the patients' hands when it comes to picking the provider they will choose. Providers are responding by adopting design principles that create a more comfortable and hassle-free experience for patients, he said.

"In today’s environment, healthcare systems and independent tenants are looking for building design that reflects their service and brand messages," Ware Malcomb Director, Healthcare Design Mila Volkova said.

"Design elements may include a modern facade, warm interiors, enhanced amenities or a healing environment. Our clients want their facilities to set a positive, welcoming tone for patient visits before they even walk through the doors," she said.

For example, the recently completed Downtown West Medical Center, a 60K SF MOB in Los Angeles designed by Ware Malcomb, offers a wellness campus and outpatient services to the Downtown LA community.

The concrete-and-glass building features storefronts on the first level, with metal panels and tile bars completing a modern exterior aesthetic. A circular entry plaza serves as the core of the medical campus and circulation hub, providing continued visibility and openness throughout the site.

Berewick Town Center MOBs

Getting The Right Mix

A good mix of tenants in a good layout — including access to other specialties — is another important factor in the success of an MOB.

"Medical services are now much more patient-centric, so facility location and design focus more on patient and customer convenience than in the past," said Marcus & Millichap's Alan Pontius, senior vice president, national director specialty divisions. 

"Old-style locations that housed a variety of private practices in a very cut-up independent layout are giving way to modern facilities that house a range of care — wellness, specialty, rehab."

Medical service providers are also considering proximity to complementary services, he said. That would include pharmacies, X-rays, labs and the like, as well as larger medical facilities such as hospitals.

MOBs need a mix of tenants that place specialists nearby for referrals, Flagship Healthcare Properties partner and Director of Leasing and Brokerage Reed Griffith said.

"It all starts with primary care. If you want a competitive MOB that's attractive to tenants, recruit a strong primary care practice to anchor the building, and it will enhance your ability to lease the balance of the space,” Griffith said.

Flagship Healthc­­are Properties recently completed construction on two 9K SF MOBs in Berewick Town Center, a 1,200-acre master-planned community southwest of Uptown Charlotte.

The anchor in this case is provided by Novant, which leased one of the two buildings and started offering primary care services toward the end of last year. The second building will be home to tenants Compleat Rehab and Sports Therapy and Langley Dental Care.

Flagship Healthcare Properties Vice President, Development Thorn Baccich

Appropriate Sizing, Flexibility Key

Successful MOBs also vary in size and scale depending on local demographics, according to Irgens Executive Vice President Dave Arnold. Milwaukee-based Irgens is a developer with a strong concentration in healthcare.

Neighborhood clinic centers, for example, tend to specialize in primary care and low-acuity specialty services that are in high demand in a specific market, Arnold said. Typically, these facilities are 20K SF to 30K SF. 

Regional ambulatory care hubs are typically 60K SF to 80K SF and comprise most diagnostic and treatment services required without the need for an overnight stay, he said. 

"Hubs are built for high-profile, retail-type locations with strong consumer-oriented amenities nearby. These amenities appeal to the millennials, who represent the greatest new potential healthcare consumer base," Arnold said.

Millennials are a larger population bulge than even the baby boomers, and in 20 to 30 years, they too will need increasing amounts of healthcare services.

Appropriate sizing of the MOB, as it relates to the market it is in, is a critical factor in a property's attractiveness, Volkova said. 

"If you design a building that's too small, you've lost opportunities to either maximize the market or capture the right tenant. If you design a building that's too big, you may have empty space sitting for too long, which is never desirable," she said.

Flexibility is another consideration in MOB competitiveness.

Healthcare is evolving rapidly, including treatments and reimbursement methodology for services provided, Integra Realty Resources' Creemens said.

Build-out costs for medical office space are high, requiring owners of these properties to factor this consideration into their long-term ownership costs.

"Combined, these influences mean that building designs should have built-in flexibility for future adaptability to inevitable change. Modular concepts of space planning and easily modified mechanical systems are prudent design considerations," Creemens said.

As the healthcare environment continues to change and adapt to the market’s needs, buildings need to allow for changes without creating financial challenges, Volkova said. 

Pressure for change will probably stem from, among other things, the demand by patients for better experiences at the places they receive their healthcare — including medical office space.

"The key is to build in critical features from the beginning, so any change in use or function becomes a tenant improvement, rather than a major building overhaul," Volkova said.