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New Hospital Buildings Define Future Of Health Care


Dallas is a city full of gorgeous buildings, and some of the latest additions are hospitals. This summer, the new $1.3 billion Parkland Memorial Hospital will open. It's being called the biggest health care construction project in the country. And less than a mile away, another $800 million hospital just opened its doors. From KERA in Dallas, Lauren Silverman looks at how these new buildings are defining the future of health care.

LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: You might say UT Southwestern's Clements University Hospital has an identity problem. Inside, you could almost forget you're in a medical center. The hallways look like art galleries - the bright patient rooms, spas, and the ER exam room, a private law office.

JOHN WARNER: One things we found that get dirty in rooms and hospitals - curtains, so these are curtain-less rooms. And so...

SILVERMAN: They've replaced the standard curtains with double-paned glass. When John Warner flips a switch, the space between the panes fills with gas, clouding them for privacy. Warner, CEO of UT Southwestern University hospitals, has a lot to show off inside the new facility. But before we talk technology, it's worth taking a step back to explain the strange shape of the building. From above, it looks like a W.

WARNER: So as we began to plan the hospital, we started out with a rectangle, like most people start with, and then we began to twist it and turn it and try to figure out ways that you could enhance privacy and also adjacencies of those people working together.

SILVERMAN: Nurses walk more than three miles a day in a traditional hospital. With this W shape, caregivers enter in the center of units, so the farthest they have to walk is eight patient beds. These new buildings are designed for digital connectivity, too. Here, doctors can videoconference with specialists during surgeries and patients can get in touch with their doctors in other states or family and friends.

WARNER: Essentially, as you come to the hospital, we build a list of email addresses of people you'd like to be involved in your care. And then we'll send them a link from the room and they click on the link...

SILVERMAN: And the doctor or family member pops up on the TV screen.

Oh, someone's here.

Videoconferencing is available in all 460 private patient rooms. Warner says adding technology to the old building wasn't an option. They needed more space, more beds, more surgical suites. That's because tens of thousands of new residents streamed into the Dallas area last year. And Texas isn't alone. Across the country, hospitals are competing to attract new patients and aging baby boomers. Health care construction spending is in the tens of billions.

ALLAN BAUMGARTEN: If I were a contractor, I would wake up every morning and thank God for the health care business.

SILVERMAN: Allan Baumgarten is a financial health policy analyst in Minnesota. And he says no matter the politics, the Affordable Care Act is shaping hospital design.

BAUMGARTEN: As a result of the Affordable Care Act, there's a lot more emphasis on linking payment to measures of patient safety, measures of patient satisfaction.

SILVERMAN: Hence the single rooms that look like spas, fine art work and latest cleaning technology. But it all comes with a cost.

BAUMGARTEN: And I think many employers in Texas and around the country would tell you that they're seeing increases in the prices being charged to them by hospitals because they're making these investments and these investments have to be paid for.

SILVERMAN: In fact, north Texas hospitals already charge insurance providers some of the highest rates for procedures in the country. That's according to a new federal report. Regardless of large price tags, medical centers in the U.S. are designing new clinics to fill with high-tech amenities and, they hope, patients. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Silverman in Dallas.

INSKEEP: It's the Texas-sized news program, MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Silverman is the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She is also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.