When Miami Valley Hospital Heart and Orthopedic Center proudly unveiled its new $137 million facility in 2010, it made news for its decision to embrace the next frontier of construction: modular builds.
The Dayton, Ohio-based medical center was built using 35 percent prefabricated units, which underscored the evolving nature of construction, especially in the medical industry.
Fast forward a decade later and about half of all modular builds in the United States are related to healthcare. Not only have medical modular units grown in popularity, but these treatment spaces can be outfitted to meet requirements that modern-day institutions demand, often resembling state-of-the-art environments constructed using conventional methods, potentially at a fraction of the cost.
For the most part, modular medical units have come a long way since first drawing interest from executives eager to save on soaring construction costs without sacrificing world-class care. To put this into perspective, a survey of construction professionals, said that 41 percent of general contractors viewed healthcare among the most promising sectors for modular builds.
These units are drawing renewed interest amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has infected more than 2 million people in the United States and 8 million-plus globally, killing hundreds of thousands.
Beyond revealing itself to be particularly deadly as compared to other respiratory diseases, the virus has shined a bright light on the current state of healthcare, especially in the United States.
For one, it’s highlighted the incredible courage and resiliency of healthcare workers from coast to coast—many of whom have suffered from a lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) yet shouldered on with grace and humility. However, it has laid bare an uncomfortable truth: America’s overburdened healthcare facilities, constrained by massive yet often unmalleable budgets, are not suited to provide emergency care for a crisis of this magnitude.
Consider the fact that hospitals across the nation warned of a shortage of ICU beds—which are critical in the fight against infectious diseases. Similarly, in an unprecedented act of desperation, US hospitals were forced to transform non-medical areas into intensive care units and to erect tents on hospital property and public spaces.
These temporary fixes reflect a need for a more sophisticated strategy going forward.
For hospital executives considering either temporary triage options or a permanent solution amid this crisis, medical modular units are considered highly adaptable because they can be built or modified within days, can be equipped with modern technology, and, if done properly, are more likely to resemble “real” patient care.
High-Tech Medical Modular Units
From an economic perspective, healthcare in the United States has grown rapidly over the last six decades. According to an analysis by Brookings, healthcare now represents nearly 18 percent of American Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a three-fold increase from the 1960s.
“Rent-seeking, monopoly power, and other flaws in health-care markets sometimes result in unnecessary care or in elevated health-care prices,” Brookings notes, identifying a dozen factors that contribute to healthcare costs in the US.
While the financial consequences of the pandemic won’t reveal itself for weeks if not months, healthcare institutions in COVID-19 hotspots have had to redirect resources away from traditional patient care to contend with an influx of critically ill patients. As a result, hospitals will be confronted with a significant loss of revenue due to widespread cancellations of elective services.
Considering that construction costs have been on the rise over the years and a consensus among medical professionals that aging Baby Boomers will require increased care, budgets may look a lot leaner in the coming years.
Medical modular units may present a solution for healthcare facilities whose eyes may have been opened by the pandemic. That they can be outfitted with the latest tech is a potential game-changer for modular manufacturers.
One such CEO told FastCompany that units can feature technology compatible with an ICU unit and meet sanitation standards.
Others have incorporated smart technology into their designs, including touchless doors and automated bathroom fixtures to reduce the spread of infections.
Modular MD, a joint venture formed by healthcare design and construction firm Central Consulting & Contracting, Inc. and Deluxe Modular, one of the country’s leading modular manufacturers, touts units that resemble real patient care, whether as an ICU or continuum of care. Along with ICU beds, these units feature nursing stations, “data closets,” utility rooms, patient bathrooms, and antimicrobial material for surfaces, along with monolithic flooring.
Indeed, these advanced units are more than just transportable boxes with a bed. Modular MD’s units can support 24/7 security systems for patient monitoring, waste treatment capabilities and can be powered by either a generator or through a local utility company.
Modular MD can manufacture 300 units per month and expects to triple production by the end of third quarter of 2020.
Transportable by a forklift and a trailer, these units can either be added to a hospital’s existing infrastructure or delivered elsewhere to be used as a satellite office—which is important for rural healthcare institutions that lack a sufficient number of ICU beds.