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10 Questions Hospitals Should Ask During Activation Planning

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In Brief: Building a new hospital is as exciting as it is daunting. Here are 10 important questions leaders should address long before opening their doors.

New construction holds the promise of increased efficiency, improved patient care, better integrated services, and more effective use of technology. Realizing that promise, however, demands an intense, time-sensitive planning and implementation effort. Not to mention the inherent risks—of delay, error, and even of unintentionally creating inefficiency.

Here are 10 questions community hospitals should ask—and answer—to assess their readiness to activate a new building.

1. Is there a big-picture project plan that encompasses all key details?

To be maximally effective, the detailed and often siloed elements of your new hospital project must be individually managed by departmental staff but centrally tracked and integrated to ensure alignment across the various schedules. Such elements include key construction milestones, IT decisions and implementation, education and training, recruitment, supply and equipment placement, cleaning, move planning, and others.

2. Are the new facility’s operations established and properly documented?

Your organization should build consensus around intra- and interdepartmental work flows—before opening the new building. Documenting these future operations will support safe patient care, bolster staff confidence, mitigate organizational risk, and identify areas of significant change for training and change management.

3. How much change can your organization tolerate? A new building is much more than simply a new working environment.

A new facility can act as a catalyst that transforms operations, IT systems, and processes, sparking innovation and enhancing culture. It is tempting to take all of this on at once, but remember that your organization’s appetite for change must be matched by your bandwidth to manage it.

4. What can your organization learn from its peers?

New healthcare facilities of every scope and size open regularly around the country, and your organization can learn valuable lessons from both their successes and snafus. Your organization can also tap into external knowledge and expertise by attending conferences and studying evidence-based design and other best practices. However, there is no substitute for experience, so take advantage of those that have it.

5. How will your organization respond to requests for changes to the space?

As more end users get involved in the planning process, these requests are inevitable. Regardless of the impetus (e.g., code compliance, new programs, operational preference), your organization must weigh all the factors behind change requests and develop an equitable process for managing and implementing them as necessary.

6. Do staffing plans take into account backfill for training and future growth?

More often than not, opening a new building means adding staff, making significant investments in training, and planning for the future. Training staff in a new facility means taking them away from their current jobs, and the necessary additional staff coverage for most clinical roles does come at a cost to the organization. Further, to ensure that your building is not prematurely outgrown, your organization must look beyond the building’s opening to align future program and staff growth with appropriate space over the long term.

7. How will new information systems affect operations and activation?

New facilities almost always mean new information systems, software upgrades and additional functionality, and an overall increased reliance on technology. Users must fully understand these changes and receive proper training on new operational work flows. Installing, implementing, integrating, and testing new IT devices and systems during activation requires a highly coordinated effort to ensure full functionality and safe patient care.

8. What is the time frame for the new facility’s opening?

Some opening and patient care initiation scenarios require several weeks or even months of ramp-up time, while others come online in a single day. The full range of options between these two extremes must be considered, taking into account myriad factors such as city approvals, finances, time of year, community events, type of services offered, and more. Your organization’s time frame will depend on its specific circumstances.

9. Is there a central communications plan?

The ability to rapidly disseminate information to all stakeholders (internal and external) takes on increasing importance as the opening date nears. With so much information to share, your organization must establish multiple clear, consistent methods and forums for two-way communication to ensure that patients, families, staff, neighbors, community members, and other interested parties remain informed.

10. Is there a sufficient activation and transition budget?

In addition to physical relocation costs, the activation and transition budget should cover all of the non-operational, one-time costs associated with bringing a new healthcare facility online, including education and training, additional staff hours, advertising and media placements, opening events, and project staff. Your organization must identify and financially support the many efforts required to initiate safe patient care in your new facility.

Opening a new building can be a daunting challenge, but with the right activation planning and implementation, your new facility can be efficiently brought online with minimal risk and delay.