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Thanks to scientific advances, Americans are living longer. In 1999, Americans' life expectancy at birth was 74 for men and 80 for women, according to the Census Bureau. By 2025, it is projected to be 78 for men and 84 for women. That means we're also going to be more likely to need to visit a hospital, whether for diagnostic procedures or an in-patient stay. To learn more about what's ahead in hospital design, we talked with Jennifer Aliber, principal at Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, a Boston-based architecture firm that counts health-care facility design and planning among its specialties.

HOSPITALS ARE GROWING

Space designs are becoming larger. There are two main reasons for the expansion. Almost all new rooms that are being built are single rooms, because no one wants a roommate. Second, imaging technology is becoming more pervasive. With traditional hospital design radiology was confined to one department. But today, imaging technology is in many hospital areas. For instance, imaging machines increasingly aid surgery in operating room-like settings. The average new hospital construction is often 15 to 18 feet from floor to ceiling versus 12 feet in the 1970s.

PATIENT-FRIENDLY

As the average patient becomes a lot older at the same time many health-care facilities expand in size, seating areas are popping up along corridors so people can take a break. As the nursing workforce gets older, design firms often make things easier by clustering bedrooms, supplies and support. Instead of relying on signage to help people find their way, more facilities are trying to make orientation and navigation more intuitive by using different materials. For example, carpet may be edged in a different color to signal areas that are off limits.

INFORMED CONSUMERS

Patients and their families are becoming educated health-care consumers. To help consumers make informed health-care decisions, we'll see more resource rooms, or on-site libraries aimed at helping the public understand diseases and health conditions.

COMPLEMENTARY THERAPY

There's a strong trend toward complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and massage. These are beginning to appear within cancer facilities, and they are quite visible. They'll often be right at the front door. Facilities like to advertise these services and make it clear to patients that it's a gentler kind of place or that they have the opportunity to make use of these amenities should they wish.

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