Q&A: How Health Care Engineers and Designers Can Communicate Better

February 15, 2017

Research shows the most important predictor of a team’s success is their communication patterns. But sometimes stereotypes get in the way and communication breaks down – thwarting opportunities for breakthroughs.

If you manage, design, or build health care facilities, you may have some preconceived notions of your engineering or design counterpart. Krista McDonald Biason, PE, associate vice president and senior electrical engineer of HGA Architects and Engineers, shares tips for overcoming the perceived “linguistic divide” among health care engineers and designers to achieve better solutions.


Q: How has working at an integrated architecture, engineering, and planning firm change your perspective of team collaboration?
A: (Biason) I consider myself fortunate to work for an A&E firm. My organization has people with many diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. I’ve learned that working with diverse teams is a good thing and improves the final project outcome and enhances the process. It gives everyone the opportunity to share different experiences and perspectives and apply them to solve a health facility challenge.

Q: In your experience, how do designers and engineers approach projects differently?
A: (Biason) Health care engineers and designers often have stereotypes of each other, but when you hear yourself being stereotyped, you often have the reaction, “That’s not me!” What I find is that engineers like myself tend to approach projects from a practical, technical standpoint. We often suggest “Here’s my problem and here are some solutions.” We focus on design calculations, code requirements, and engineering best practices. Design architects typically approach projects creatively – but I’ve found that many also take on the same approach as a “stereotypical” engineer and apply their skills from a patient-focused perspective. So in some ways, it depends on the personality of each individual. But the important thing is we need both approaches to tackle a health care facility project. That way, we ensure code requirements are met and an optimal healing environment is created for occupants.

Q: What communication tips do you have for health care engineers and designers?
A: (Biason) Health care engineers often speak their own language. My coworker and I actually presented this topic at the 53rd ASHE Annual Conference. We called the presentation “The Engineer Whisper.” Abbreviations and acronyms seem to dominate health care engineering jargon, so it’s important that engineers translate it into plain English when working with designers and C-suite professionals. For all groups, listening and “reading the room” are very important. People will feel appreciated and valued when they feel heard and will be more willing to work together on a project. It’s also important to build trust. Don’t walk into a room and say “this is my solution.” Instead, walk into a room with confidence in your expertise, but carefully listen to the needs of the others sitting at the table. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify details. Clarification can make all the difference.

Q: What are some ways that health care engineers and designers can learn from each other?
A: (Biason) When you bring group of experts together, they represent all different perspectives.  This provides a window of opportunity to say, “I understand what you do at a high level, but after listening to your views and opinions, I now understand why certain decisions are being made.” I attend conferences like the PDC Summit and typically skip those sessions that are in my wheelhouse. Instead, I try to attend sessions that are more design-focused in nature so I can learn more about what is current in their field and understand more about their challenges. This helps me make more informed team decisions. Joining organizations like ASHE are also helpful. It is a diverse membership group and everyone offers a different perspective on how to optimize the health care built environment.

Biason and her team are also exploring how generational stereotypes affect the health care facility field. Related to their research, a previous news post discusses ways to engage millennials in health care design and engineering.