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Modular Construction Growing in Popularity to Keep Up With Demand for New Healthcare Facilities

According to a recent article in Construction Dive, new trends in the healthcare industry are leading to an increase in outpatient facilities. According to a December 2015 Accenture report, there will be more than 2,800 in-store clinics operational by the end of 2017, a 47% increase from 2014.

In order to get medical facilities up and running quickly, modular and off-site construction is growing in popularity. BuildSteel’s 10 Ways Cold-Formed Steel Framing Can Lower Your Total Construction Costs indicates that panelizing CFS wall panels off-site reduces on-­site labor costs and construction waste. It cuts the total project cycle time and improves quality control, since CFS components can be created to exact measurements.

In addition, the predictability and accuracy of steel components speed up the process and allow follow­-on trades to get to work sooner. The shorter construction time frame reduces interim financing costs for projects. It also narrows the window of construction-related liability and allows for earlier building occupancy.

This boon for the construction industry, as well for patient convenience is due to the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in March 2010.

Close access to healthcare facilities are of key interest to patients – which is why smaller clinics and surgical centers are growing in popularity. Cindy Juhas, chief strategy officer for medical equipment company CME, notes, “You have to be where they are. Instead of building more hospitals, healthcare providers started expanding outreach facilities located where the patient is.”

Millennials are also contributing to this turn in healthcare delivery. “As millennials continue to grow up and get into the workforce, they want even more convenience,” Juhas said.

Smaller, accessible healthcare facilities are less expensive for patients as well. Barring an appointment at the family physician, the hospital emergency room has been the traditional healthcare delivery system of choice when a critical health issue arises. John Pellitteri, partner at New York–based accounting and consulting firm Grassi & Co. and head of the firm’s healthcare services practice, said that this new wave of medical facilities provides an alternative to costly hospital treatment. “All of them are engaging the population, taking healthcare into the communities and seeing [patients with] chronic illnesses,” he said, keeping patients “healthy and out of the hospitals.”

Construction Dive noted the following trends in construction:

Building Better, and Faster

Speed is critical for patients and healthcare professionals alike, which means construction companies are having to step it up and deliver the facilities faster. The goal, said Robert Brewer, partner and head of Grassi’s architecture and engineering practice, is a fast turnaround time so that the provider can start servicing patients. Lean construction and integrated project delivery methods, he said, have figured prominently into construction strategies, facilitating coordination between the owner, design professionals and contractors from the outset of the project. “They’re working together to see how these buildings can be constructed as fast as possible,” Brewer said.

Expedited equipment installation is part of the equation, according to Juhas. CME, which also sells and designs equipment solutions for its customers, has expanded across the U.S. in an effort to meet the needs of the industry. “The building industry is booming to try to get healthcare as local as possible, which is why we did what we did,” she said. “The only way we could figure it out is to be everywhere.”

Moving Toward Modular

In addition to being under the gun to get medical facilities up and running quickly, most systems are under strict budgetary pressures. This is where modular and off-site construction comes into play.

“What drives our clients to modular is the flexibility, time and financing we can bring with it,” said John Lefkus, president and a principal owner of RAD Technology, a modular builder that specializes in radiation, sterilization and oncology facilities. Paraphrasing iconic 20th-century American economist Theodore Levitt, Lefkus said that RAD’s medical modular solutions have proven successful because “people don’t want a drill or drill bits. They just want the hole. We figure out how to give clients a hole.” And “the hole” is a facility that keeps pace with the ever-changing technological and government medical care reimbursement requirements. Even a deficiency in the space required per patient in an oncology treatment practice by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering’s Facility Guidelines Institute, he said, can result in no reimbursement for the physicians and no discounts on expensive drugs.

Modular buildings, Lefkus said, have another advantage over conventionally built facilities. “It comes with an exit strategy,” he said. Cancer treatment facilities, for example, often have a three-to-five year business plan, which does not line up with the typical 30-to-50-year building life cycle plan. In the oncology field, he said, a technological or medical breakthrough can render a facility built around a $25 million piece of equipment obsolete in an instant, so providers are starting to see the value in something that reflects the reality of the industry.

“So many facilities or therapies are slaves to existing technology,” Lefkus said. With the healthcare industry in constant flux, he noted, modular medical facilities are flexible enough to meet the challenge. “It offers great opportunities.”