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Designing a better space for cancer care

Collaboration between Texas A&M researchers and architecture firm promises evidence-based designs for cancer centers
Cancer care

The future of cancer care—and perhaps health care more broadly—will likely look very different in the future than it does today. To keep up, new hospitals will have to be built with innovative space and design principles—but what will those look like?

To find out, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Center for Health Organization Transformation (CHOT) at Texas A&M University is collaborating with the Texas A&M College of Architecture to research the health care of the future. They’ve also partnered with global architectural firm HKS, who will transform their findings into actual facility design options for future cancer centers. The Dallas-based HKS has designed hospitals all over the world, including the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Alkek Tower Expansion and the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Flower Mound.

HKS has a research arm, called Center for Advanced Design Research and Evaluation (CADRE), which is led by Texas A&M architecture doctoral program alumna Upali Nanda, PhD. “The coming together of public health and architecture has been long overdue,” Nanda said. “We are honored to be part of this academic-industry collaboration so we can make research insights around personalized and precise cancer care, actionable, and realized in the world of state-of-the-art cancer care facilities.”

“I’m very excited about this collaboration,” said Bita Kash, PhD, MBA, director of the NSF CHOT and associate professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health who is leading the university side of the effort. “I think it’s unique to have such a multi-disciplinary group working on a single project, but you will see more of this type of collaboration—especially the involvement with industry partners—as time goes on.”

Kash has worked with Len Berry, PhD, MBA, distinguished professor of marketing at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School and senior fellow of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, to study cancer care teams of the future. Berry has recently completed a major study of how to improve the service experience of cancer patients and their families.

“In the current system, even the best cancer care is somewhat fragmented,” Kash said. “So, we’re interested in what cancer care will look like if representatives from the diagnostic, treatment and survivorship teams all came together to create a ‘dream team’ that would communicate and coordinate directly with the patient and his or her family.”

“A cancer diagnosis and its treatment creates unimaginable anxiety,” Berry added, “and facility design that offers emotional as well as physical comfort is critical.”

Kash and her team will also explore how advances in pharmacology (such as targeted nanosystem drug delivery) and the trend toward precision medicine will affect the cancer patient’s experience. “We are potentially looking into a future where there is much more personalized and specialized treatment possible closer to home,” Kash said. “Once we have a vision of what the future care model will look like, this collaboration will help us translate that into considerations for space and design to optimize workflow, improve patient experience and ensure patient safety.”

To help accomplish these goals, the multidisciplinary team includes faculty and graduate students from architecture and public health, as well as undergraduate students from various fields. Although they are just beginning the project, they will use the current knowledge base and work at the NSF CHOT as a springboard to begin to research what clinicians and others expect cancer care to look like in the future.

“If you’re not informed about where clinical practice is going, you do take the risk of building something based on the traditional way of doing medicine,” Kash said. “You might end up with spaces that are sitting empty, or at least not being used in an optimal way.”

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