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Engaging Clinical Leads to Enhance Healthcare Design Success

Being a nurse for over 25 years has provided a fine lens to assist me with my clinical planning experience.  It has helped me build an in-depth understanding of my involvement in the planning, design and construction of new state-of-the-art facilities.  My expertise and background helps me work with design teams to design hospitals that deliver better care to patients, families and communities they serve, as well as improving work environments for the staff. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have had such a variety of clinical and quality improvement experience that has that has helped me in my role as a Clinical Lead. – Cindy O’Brien, RN, BsN, MHS, Clinical Lead

Successfully delivering patient-centered healthcare facility design requires integrating multiple, sometimes conflicting, design considerations into one space. Stakeholder consultations, therefore, are an important early element of any of Parkin’s projects. Clinical Leads are specially trained designers with backgrounds in healthcare delivery like nursing; they now play an increasingly key role in healthcare facility design, planning, and construction administration. Their clinical expertise in healthcare delivery best practices provides unique insights that have positive impacts on a project.

Engaging Clinical Leads throughout all stages of a project can lead to improved outcomes for the facility, patients, and staff. Clinical Leads can help cuts costs by timely identification of problems, and by helping to inform flexible designs that ensure a facility will be useful—well into the future.

What is a Clinical Lead?

Clinical Leads have first-hand experience in their fields, augmented by specialized design training, who translate that expertise into crucial input throughout the design and construction processes of a new facility or renovation. They often have training in Lean design, process mapping, and change management, as well as in critical areas like Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC). As integral team members, they help to mitigate impact and risk through planning. Clinical Leads also guide and help clients to understand how intelligent design can lead to operational efficiencies.

A Clinical Lead provides advice on how to improve the built environment to alleviate excess work and waste for nursing staff. These frontline experts understand that carefully considered spaces, like medication rooms or supply rooms, can support daily workflow and limit the amount of walking or backtracking required to reach supplies. Their clinical expertise assists designers in implementing best practices to address the hospital staff’s unique needs.

From concept and business planning to functional programming, schematic design, and design development, they help to keep projects on track, while also providing deficiency reviews to detect any problems ahead of time. They assist in guiding Emergency Planning protocols based on their first-hand understanding of the clinical needs of a patient population. They also provide on-the-spot feedback during site walkthroughs and site inspections.

Crucial Design Team Members

Clinical Leads are specially trained professional members of design teams. They have the skills to undertake process and documentation reviews, including assessing Design, Design Development, Working Drawings, Requests for Information, Project Agreements, and Schedules of Accommodation. A Clinical Lead can assess schedules and ensure that specifications for items such as door handles, hand rails, and grab bars address the needs of the populations who will use the space.

In renovation work, Clinical Leads can review work permits and impact notices and assess electrical and mechanical needs. They work as the liaison among the frontline, consultants, technical team, and project team, and they provide communications and information to clinical users, administrators, and various levels of staff. They also play an important role in mitigating the impact of construction work on 24/7/365 hospital operations.

The Clinical Lead can support frontline colleagues, when the time comes to occupy a new facility or healthcare space, by coordinating Clinical/Operational Commissioning or Transition Planning staff training and orientation. A Clinical Lead’s experience of the whole picture from all sides at the onset of a project is valuable in the development and launch of a new facility.

Our in-house Clinical Lead, Cindy O’Brien RN, BsN, MHS, has frontline experience in emergency, critical care, and inpatient units. Cindy acts as a surrogate clinical user within our design teams to ensure that best practices and standards of care are integrated into clinical planning at the earliest stages and throughout the life of a project. She also works as an interface with owners’ groups to provide them with support and understanding of the process. She understands workflow requirements, as well as patient needs, and she views  the facility through a public visitor’s lens.

Cindy understands elder-friendly design, CSA, and industry standards guidelines. With expertise in critical path creation for operational planning, she identifies potential weaknesses, missing elements, or errors throughout the design process including any problems with construction drawings. At the build phase, she ensures that the coordination of multiple consultants, like plumbing, electrical and mechanical, runs smoothly. In the case of a renovation, she integrates the construction schedule with move-planning for existing patients, when necessary.

In-house Clinical Lead

For over 15 years, healthcare professionals, especially nurses, have been upgrading their design skills to consult with architects and designers, providing crucial insights in the quest for improved patient outcomes. Recognizing these benefits, we decided that having an in-house Clinical Lead would improve our clients’ experiences as we go through the planning, design and construction processes with them.

Cindy’s front-line experience helps our design teams to make design decisions that minimize impacts for patients, residents, and staff. Her holistic expertise enhances the design and delivery process for Parkin clients, patients, staff, and visitors—across Canada.


With notes from Mike Rickson, RN, BScN | Site Manager | Capital Care Norwood

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