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Academic facilities for integrated practice are changing the way we experience healthcare

February 23, 2021

By Sami Szeszulski

How academic building design for cross-disciplinary learning can inspire future healthcare professionals to achieve more successful outcomes

Not unlike integrating design and engineering early in the conception of a building for a more cohesive process, an integrated approach to healthcare results in a holistic assessment of a patient’s complex makeup of body systems. This approach allows for a better understanding of illness, allowing care providers to offer more effective preventative care and healing measures. To teach healthcare in a way that focuses on whole-patient care, colleges and universities are bringing this holistic thinking to campus by integrating specialties of practice through dedicated interprofessional facilities.

This rising shift in healthcare academic design is being driven by two factors. In recent years, both measured and predicted shortages of healthcare professionals have been growing across the country as the median age of the general population continues to increase. Additionally, various accrediting boards have begun implementing more rigorous requirements for Inter-professional Education (IPE) in health education.

One of the first of its kind in Michigan, Central Michigan University’s IPEP Center houses facilities that provide a comprehensive experience for simulated patient care training. 

IPE is a framework in which health profession students work and learn together across disciplines to achieve more successful healthcare outcomes in practice. IPE embraces each of the specialty healthcare disciplines working together to diagnose, treat, and manage the care of their patients, thus creating a patient care plan that addresses the whole patient—including their biological, psychological, and social needs. In practice, this comprehensive approach has proven to achieve more successful patient outcomes. While this inter-professional approach was first envisioned in the 1960s, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 helped ignite a renewed focus on its integration into mainstream health practices. As part of the law, several reforms to healthcare delivery systems were enacted to constrain costs and improve quality of care. Specifically, a collaborative approach between the health professions has become an important factor to enhancing the doctor-patient relationship, improving health outcomes, reducing hospital readmissions, and avoiding duplicating services.

To support this modern approach to health studies and the forecasted demand for more healthcare professionals, colleges and universities have taken steps to reevaluate their facilities to best support a collaborative environment. Central Michigan University (CMU) recognized the need to rise to meet these increased demands. 

One of the first of its kind in Michigan, CMU’s IPEP Center houses facilities that together provide a comprehensive experience for simulated patient care training.

Supporting IPE requirements

We started working with CMU in 2016 to design a $26 million, 58,000-square-foot addition to its existing Health Professions building. This addition would allow CMU to increase enrollment numbers, better supporting the state’s demand for more industry professionals. It also created an opportunity to examine how its academic spaces could better support IPE requirements.

CMU was previously meeting IPE accreditation requirements through a series of twice-a-year seminars that invited students across multiple healthcare programs and regional universities to campus to participate in collaborative exercises. This approach, while successful, did not provide the opportunity to create an ongoing collaborative culture within the college. It also lacked extensive opportunities for hands-on simulated care opportunities. 

Two large simulation rooms at CMU’s IPE Center utilize full-body medical manikins.

With the new addition to the Health Professions building, IPE could be placed at the forefront through a new 7,000-square-foot Inter-professional Education and Practice Center (IPEP Center). One of the first of its kind in Michigan, CMU’s IPEP Center houses facilities that together provide a comprehensive experience for simulated patient care training.

Core to this experience are two large simulation rooms, each with three patient care stations that model a hospital room experience. A simulation control room provides the tools necessary for recording, monitoring, and documenting the simulated care process. This simulation suite utilizes full-body medical manikins (human patient simulators) ranging in levels of fidelity to align with the simulated medical procedure for which they are used. The IPEP Center owns six manikins, representative of various developmental stages, including infant, child, pregnant mother, and adult. These manikins are controlled by computerized commands sent from within the control room. As simulated situations are executed, they are observed by other students and instructors, and recorded so that the student(s) practicing the task can later debrief and review and evaluate each step in the process with their instructors.  

A simulation control room at CMU’s IPE Center provides tools to record, monitor, and document the simulated care process. 

Complementing the simulation suite are eight standardized patient exam rooms that provide an environment like a doctor’s office. Unlike the simulation suite which uses manikins, the diagnostic and treatment practices in these exam rooms use standardized patients. These patients are essentially actors who have been trained to respond to their care providers with certain prescribed symptoms, to emulate a certain condition.

The exam rooms have also been designed to strategically pair together to serve an additional function. Connected by windows and equipment cable pass-throughs, four sets of rooms can be utilized by audiology students to practice hearing-based assessments. Auxiliary spaces within the center, including standardized patient waiting and changing rooms, and a student waiting room, support this suite. Waiting areas also feature their own entrance points into the center, reinforcing the simulation by controlling the paths of the patients and students prior to their exam room encounters.

These core spaces are supported by a modest entry lobby that welcomes students and guests. A small office suite provides accommodations for designated IPE staff, and a debrief room provides space for cohort-wide debrief sessions. Ample storage and laundry facilities allow for the proper care and storage of the various pieces of delicate equipment utilized within the spaces. 

Eight standardized patient exam rooms at CMU’s IPE Center provide an equivalent environment to patient exams rooms found in a doctor’s office.

‘Improving patient outcomes and reducing medical costs’

Tom Masterson, Dean of The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions, believes that creating educational spaces like CMU’s IPEP Center will have long-term benefits. “In addition to providing much-needed clinicians to the region, the training our students get in the IPEP Center will have a significant impact on the region’s healthcare system by improving patient outcomes and reducing medical costs,” he said.

Completed in the fall of 2019, the IPEP Center was slated for student use in the 2020 spring semester. Although on-campus training was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the flexibility in the center’s design has allowed CMU to seamlessly adjust.

Amy Malheim, who serves as the Director of the IPEP Center, shared that “despite COVID, the IPEP Center is being used by various health professions in their adaptation of learning into a HyFlex format,” which combines both in-person and virtual learning experiences. “The technology available in the IPEP Center made the transition to virtual encounters very smooth and provides students an opportunity to experience telehealth visits prior to returning to clinical rotations.”

The pandemic has illuminated the strain on healthcare systems across the country. The lingering impacts reinforce the importance of the work being done by institutions like CMU to provide top-quality education to the next generation of healthcare professionals. 

  • Sami Szeszulski

    Thoroughly experienced in community-led design initiatives, Sami is an architect with a passion for the pre-design process, particularly in planning, programming, and user and community engagement.

    Contact Sami
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