There is no question that the healthcare landscape changed significantly with the onset of the global pandemic in early 2020. Healthcare providers across the world worked swiftly to revise their existing care delivery methods, while also developing new and innovative approaches. One such innovation was the drive-thru lab – whether presenting for COVID-19 tests, blood draws, vaccinations, or other quick tests, people could now drive to a designated location and interface with a lab service provider without ever leaving their vehicle.
The pandemic highlighted the fact that minimizing contact reduces the rate of spread of illness. So, while the concept of drive-thru service is not new, introducing it in a healthcare setting offers benefits to both patients and providers, who no longer have prolonged exposure to each other.
A variety of drive-thru methods have been explored since its introduction as a viable care delivery option. It is important to understand the limitations of existing facilities, the ability to integrate the concept into new construction, and the characteristics of the location when considering whether to offer such services.
Making use of existing space is the most sustainable choice when it comes to integration of the drive-thru service, but the building or buildings available may not support the needs of a lab. While the most effective approach would be to combine the lab processing space with the drive-thru because it streamlines the process, this is not always possible. When it is not an option, consider ground-level space along the exterior with easy drive access so that patients can pull through or park to receive services. The image in the “Typical Design Considerations” section is an example of this concept, where the existing facility had a lab near the center of the building, but they were willing to give up a conference room to create a workspace and exterior access to covered parking spaces.
When it comes to integrating a drive-thru lab into a new facility, the options become more abundant, provided the site conditions are conducive to the required vehicular circulation space. Some design considerations in new construction include how you might use the building itself to provide shelter from the elements for the outdoor testing space, or if it makes more sense to build a freestanding structure that offers a more prominent visual cue for wayfinding. Whatever the choice may be, long term considerations for functionality are important. Where an existing facility may dictate the creation of a remote workspace for the drive-thru lab, a new build means the opportunity to construct a lab processing space connected directly to the drive-thru testing area. This could reduce redundant staff, increase testing throughput, and reduce wasted resources.
Regardless of the concept for introducing a drive-thru facility, there are key characteristics for the best functionality.
It is unclear whether this trend of drive-thru lab services will continue, or if the model is sustainable in a non-pandemic situation. What is clear is that the healthcare system can make rapid and innovative changes using the resources available to continue serving the population at large. Drive-thru lab testing may be the next step in reducing our footprint and reducing the spread of preventable illnesses.