Vicki Mettlach, senior healthcare operations planner, contributes her expertise to the development of healthcare facility design that supports evidence-based clinical outcomes. Let’s learn more about how throughout her nursing career, she’s come to understand how the built environment affects healing outcomes.
Operational planning is a critical first step of any design project. It ensures that spaces are right-sized, processes are defined and appropriate for the new space, patient/staff satisfaction and safety are addressed in the design, and the client’s vision is realized.
How do you inform design in your current role? As an operations planner, I work closely with the design team to ensure that best practices and evidence-based design elements are being considered. BSA has a team of operational planners who each bring an extensive clinical and quality background. We provide the design team with research on evidence-based design, programming tools, and a set of clinical eyes, so their final designs help reduce medical errors, increase patient safety, improve clinical outcomes and reimbursements.
That the sooner the operations planner is engaged, fewer changes and modifications are needed later.
As a bedside nurse, I have always believed that the environment we practice in can “make or break” a patient’s recovery. In the past, I worked in many spaces that were not conducive to efficiencies, and I would redesign them in my head. Working for an innovative design firm now allows me to take those ideas in my head and see them come to fruition for a client. As a quality management director, I also understand how workflow processes can impact outcomes, which affects reimbursements. And having built facilities from the ground up, I realized that my passion for my patients could be realized on another level by building teams, processes, and spaces that positively impact the patient’s experience and recovery.
Everyone in healthcare would agree that the industry changes are fast and furious. It is challenging to keep up with the latest trends and ideas. But keeping the cost of providing care and services down will always be an important factor in design. As designers, we can help with cost containment by using Lean principles in operations planning and project management. We do understand that the future will bring technologies that allow for care outside of the traditional hospital, so providing operational efficiencies to outpatient settings is important. But we are starting to see a swing toward care being provided even closer to the patient, in their homes, through remote technologies. Processes to ensure connectivity of that information being transferred through these new applications will become more and more critical to operational success.
I enjoy reading biographies and memoirs because I learn so much about myself by understanding the trials and obstacles of others. One of my favorites is the story of Louie Zamperini, the Olympian who became a POW in Japan in 1943, heartbreakingly described in the book “Unbroken.” After his plane was shot down in the Pacific Ocean and survived being adrift with sharks for 47 days, he was subjected to brutal physical abuse and cruel mental torture in the camp for the next two years. Reading these true accounts of someone’s unbreakable spirit brings a greater perspective on my own life.
What are some key elements of delivering good design?
Communication, Communication, Communication. Ensuring the most effective methods of communication are used throughout the project is critical to success. Understanding the client’s vision and guiding principles from the onset is also key. Being good listeners allows our operational team to appreciate truly the challenges that our clients face. And continuous learning allows us to stay abreast of healthcare trends and be the thought leaders needed to enable effective decision-making processes.
Simply put, Lean principles are used to reduce waste. Waste could include anything from wasted time, wasted space, and wasted steps. In healthcare, we often find that there are cumbersome and wasteful processes in effect simply because it is the way it has “always been done.” As operational planners, we use Lean tools to identify ways to eliminate waste in future processes. We evaluate the seven key workflow processes (medications, supplies, patients, families, providers, information, and equipment) to identify any waste involved and address them in the new design and new process.
I have been lucky to have had many interesting jobs along the way, from working as a rodeo medic to teaching history in an inner-city high school. But one of my favorite first jobs in high school was working at a record store in the mall back when there were records, and malls were the place to be! There was a turntable at the front of the store that played the records over a loudspeaker. Whoever was working that day got to choose which records were played and wielded all the power for that shift. Local and national bands would come in with “bribes” to get us to play their records, so I often had free concert tickets and free albums to pass out. I think that was the only time in my life when I was considered the cool kid.
I think it is best to keep them hidden.
I have two important things at my desk. When I left my last job, my team gave me a figurine of the characters from the Wizard of Oz, one of my favorite movies. The inscription reads, “It is not where you go, it is who you meet along the way.” I love that sentiment and am happy to say that I have met some amazing people along the way. But perhaps even more important at my desk is my stash of Hershey Kisses. Some people can’t function without coffee. I can’t function without chocolate.