Responding to Changing Patient Needs with Modular Technology

October 7, 2009 in Modular Buildings

Hospital administrators and healthcare providers are facing unprecedented challenges in meeting changing demographic needs and profitability. One of the biggest challenges is the soaring number of baby boomers. They will be 78 million strong by 2029. Their expectations for healthcare are unlike any previous generation. They expect convenience, satellite locations, clean buildings and if it is green all the better. Joining this group are over one million injured war veterans from WW1 through the Persian Gulf War. The Iraq war has resulted in an additional 28,451 injured through 2007.

Medicare reimbursements have fallen below facility cost. The Medicare population is continuing to grow while commercial insurance is shrinking. Add in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 that significantly slows spending for Medicare and Medicaid. And you can see why administrators are in a full blown cardiac arrest. Delivering quality healthcare while preserving profit margins requires intense scrutiny in every department. From housekeeping to capital equipment every department is under the microscope. The facilities management department is no exception.


Meeting the needs of various demographics fueled a surge in new construction starts that reached an all time high of 109 million square feet in 2006. That peak according to Engineering News Record was 24% higher than what was reported at the start of the decade. “As profitability improved, major hospital chains began to undertake huge capital expansion programs, boosting construction activity. New technologies and the need to remain competitive have been key reasons for development initiatives.” Surgery centers, clinics, rural outreach locations, and diagnostic centers have seen a rapid rise in expansion to meet the demands of an aging population. For profit hospitals are not alone in this expansion. The renovation of older facilities and an increasing number of aging veterans has the government expanding at a record pace as well.

Rapid expansion this decade has given life to alternative forms of construction. Administrators, facilities managers and architects have turned to the modular building industry to meet both short-term and long-term demand for quality space.


One benefit of modular is flexibility. It can be adjusted to function more efficiently. It can be moved and it offers a myriad of interior design options. “Temporary modular buildings used in healthcare applications are designed and constructed to uncompromising standards of quality,” said John Hale, director of healthcare design and construction for Satellite Shelters, Inc. “The very nature of being modular allows the medical community to design and configure the buildings in a manner that best suits their needs.” Robert Hash, MD, Senior Associate Dean at Mercer University School of Medicine is currently using modular technology for the construction of science research labs for medical school faculty. “We needed space for the intermediate term (4 years) and a short window between approval for the project and start-up for the project (9 months)” said Hash. According to Hash there are many other applications within the medical community that modular is well suited.

Hash advises his colleagues to talk through the design process and the project needs with the modular builder. Seek cost and space effective alternatives to the needs of traditional build uses, i.e, think beyond “how we always do it”. Hash notes, “thinking about even simple things like wash tub basins, equipment positioning, common use areas will maximize the efficiency of the building and the overall design.”

The Veterans Administration has adopted the modular concept even with its conventional construction. The VA Hospital Building System (VAHBS) is an approach to the design and construction of large, multi-story hospital buildings based on the principles of systems integration. Key features of the VAHBS are modular design with integrated service zones for permanent and adaptable building subsystems. Building efficiency is key in any new building discussion. The definition of building cost efficiency is a moving target but there are several undisputable qualifiers that modular buildings bring to the conversation.

• They are easily sited near existing facilities thus minimizing travel time for healthcare providers.
• When sited on a campus, modular facilities are easily accessible by patients thus speeding the delivery of services.
• Modular offers flexible interior design that allows for easy supervision of patients by fewer staff
• Outpatient clinics offer speed to occupancy and cost efficiency

Speed to occupancy is another variable that helps drive revenue to the bottom line. Simultaneous manufacturing and site work often shortens the construction time frame over conventional construction. Reduced construction time can reduce financing and supervision cost. Bringing a new service on-line quickly or opening a new clinic in an underserved market is quantifiable in revenue gains. Add in the increased consumer brand recognition and it is easy to see how modular buildings can work for you.


Modular by its very nature is an excellent choice for the green conscious building owner. The eco-friendly benefits include:

• The entire modular building can be recycled
• Reduced on-site construction minimizes noise pollution
• Less vehicular traffic reduces green house gas emissions and fuel consumption
• Lower amount of building contaminates
• Manufacturing technology recycles the minimal building waste
• Life expectancy of modular is the same as conventional construction

Often times building users are unaware that they are in a modular building. The design and construction techniques enable architects and general contractors to design buildings that blend seamlessly into the surrounding environment. A case in point is the Oasis Family Health Center in Casa Grande, Arizona. This is a 3,000 square foot family medical facility with a large geriatric practice. Interior exams rooms and offices were configured in a U shape to enhance flow and centralize medical support services. The low maintenance exterior was designed to withstand the harsh desert conditions. Close attention to the natural and built environment resulted in architectural details that include parapets, pillars, bell towers and a stucco finish.


As the demographics and needs of the American population continue to evolve so to must the approaches to the construction of medical facilities. An excerpt from Building Economics: Theory and Practice accentuates the changing face of building construction today. “We no longer build buildings like we used to, nor do we pay for them in the same way. Buildings today are… life support systems, communication terminals, data manufacturing centers, and much more. They are incredibly expensive tools that must be constantly adjusted to function efficiently. The economics of building has become as complex as its design.” And modular construction technology is at the forefront of function and efficiency.

About The Author
John Tully Hale is the Medical Facilities Sales Manager for Satellite Shelters, Inc. He has over 25 years experience in the design and construction of medical facilities throughout the United States. .

About Satellite Shelters, Inc.
Satellite provides a wide range of space solutions for public and private enterprises including, mobile offices, modular buildings, and design-build services. For more information visit or call 800.453.1299.