Laboratory Space Design: The Next Frontier

The science of health care is constantly advancing, sometimes on a slower evolutionary path, but often with revolutionary jolts. Both types of advancements can leave legacy aftereffects in the layout of our hospitals, clinics, and laboratories such as walls in strange places, benches that serve no purpose other than to accumulate clutter, or instruments stashed in corners that make no sense for the workflow. For you anatomy buffs out there, it is akin to leaving vestigial organs around, such as the appendix, sinuses, or the coccyx, after they are no longer needed. Wouldn’t it be nice if every so often we could take a step back and review all of the evolutionary and revolutionary changes and reassess how they fit together?

In this blog series, we will be discussing a methodology that can be used in the design of a new laboratory space or the redesign of an existing laboratory space. Some of the points may or may not apply to your situation, as I will be attempting to cover a generalized scenario. Please feel free take away the information you feel applies to you and your situation.

The methodology consists of five major steps, each with a series of key points that will be fleshed out in future posts:

  1. Define your laboratory strategy

The blog post(s) for this step will address defining the near-term, mid-term, and long-term plans for the laboratory. We will delve into aspects of the test menu, changes to the practice the lab supports, and financial considerations.

  1. Establish your baseline

The blog post(s) for this step will address collecting data and establishing a solid understanding of the current state of the laboratory. Some of the items discussed in this section will be current staffing levels, hours of operation, equipment lists and status, floor space (clean and dirty), specimen arrival patterns, and turnaround time (TAT). At the same time, we will also start defining goals for specific metrics such as TAT, hours of operation, or instrument availability.

  1. Design the component pieces

The blog post(s) for this step will use the laboratory strategy and baseline information to begin the process of designing the laboratory space. This stage will focus on designing sections of the laboratory, such as chemistry, microbiology, or hematology. This helps keep the team members focused on bite-size pieces and keeps them from being overwhelmed by the whole. There is also a requirement to create multiple options for each section that will come into play in the next step.

  1. Assemble the pieces and create flow

The blog post(s) for this step will take the chosen component designs and begin integrating them into a complete laboratory plan. This process will have its own set of challenges as it may require some of the component plans to change. Luckily, we have a list of alternate designs available to help make the adjustments. This step also incorporates the other facility requirements such as storage, waste, and development space.

  1. Put the whole story together

The blog post(s) for this final step will walk through how to assemble the complete story of the laboratory space plan. There will be different audiences who will be reviewing it for different purposes, so we will discuss, in general, what those audience members will be looking for. This section will also contain a wrap-up of the conversations on the methodology.

I hope this blog series will assist you with your project and generate some good conversations among your team members and leadership. Open dialogue is one of the most important aspects of a laboratory space design project. Without it, we may end up with a less-than-optimal design and perhaps a few of those “vestigial organs.”

In the next post, we will start with the first step: Defining your laboratory strategy.

Mike Baisch

Mike Baisch is a Systems Engineer within the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic. He partners with the various testing laboratories on their quality and process improvement projects including staffing to workload, root cause analysis, and standard work & training. Mike has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2005 and holds a degree in Industrial Engineering. Outside of work, Mike enjoys cooking and sampling cuisine from around the world, home brewing, and gardening.