Design Do's for the Imaging Department

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Technology, staff and patients have seeming divergent needs in a modern medical imaging facility. Whether in a hospital or an outpatient facility, advances in digital imaging have made the challenge the movement of people as well as the images. Blending “high tech” with “high touch” and being able to expand and change in the future becomes the opportunity. Understanding what has changed—and what has not—in both architecture and technology is essential to medical imaging departments that are safe, productive and comfortable. 

The design of the modern medical imaging department must meet several seemingly divergent needs: 

  • Accommodate large, heavy, noisy technical medical equipment with extensive infrastructure and shielding requirements. 
  • Create a safe, pleasant and efficient staff work environment. 
  • Comfort patients who are likely to be anxious or uncomfortable, or a combination of both. 

New developments in medicine and architecture influence the design of medical imaging facilities. An understanding of what has changed – and what has not – is essential to developing safe, productive and comfortable imaging departments and outpatient centers.


Change in imaging technology accelerates, fueled by the development of digital information technologies. Imaging technology is developing in four ways: new technology, advances in specific modalities, convergence and functional imaging.

The first development with widespread clinical applications was computerized axial tomography, or CT scan, in the 1970s.

The variety of imaging modalities and equipment available make flexibility a key design factor. The suite’s space and infrastructure must support the latest technology, allowing for multiple upgrades.

Future upgrades may involve more than simply replacing old equipment. For example, some hospitals now have two or more CT scanners, not all located in the imaging department.

Imaging technologies have increased in number, speed and power. A patient’s full body can be scanned in less time that it takes to move the patient in and out, creating design implications for patient staging areas, dressing and staff work areas.

Radiologists use the digital information base to improve patient outcomes. The image of radiologist in a dark room is transformed to an integral information provider. As developments in digital technology continue, imaging becomes accessible and cost-effective. Scans are drastically increasing in volume and number, with shorter scan sessions and larger patient information sets.

Evidence-based medicine and, evidence-based design has spurred important research into the measurable impact of design on patient outcomes, staff performance and overall efficiency. Based on research, design includes increased natural light, appropriate materials and measurable design impacts on work performance are being incorporated into new hospitals and outpatient imaging centers. Natural light in imaging rooms of all types – MRI, CT, even R/F – will have the most significant impact on patient comfort and anxiety.

Patient changing and staging areas should be designed for privacy and dignity, avoiding the bullpen-style large waiting spaces that are unfriendly and unwelcoming. At the same time, individual dressing rooms that really allow the patient to change clothes and prepare, before and after the imaging exam, will go a long way.  Think about department store dressing rooms, and what works and what does not.  Family spaces can be designed for personal details and comfort, reasonably close to the exam spaces and facilitating a connection to daily activities. 

Staff work areas are designed to facilitate tasks and ergonomics to avoid repetitive drudgery, staff comfort and ease of access to patients, work products, radiologists and often the family, are all appropriate examples utilized in projects today.

Re-arranging the puzzle

As MRI equipment has increased in power from 0.5 Tesla (T) to 1.5T to 3.0T and even 7.0T, the magnetic fields emitted by these machines have increased.

The great benefit of digital imaging is that it allows the movement of information and images – not people. The design of any imaging department is based on workflow and patient satisfaction, not the physical movement of film. This fundamental change allows the imaging department to be patient focused, improve staff work habits and provide a supportive family model.

A full understanding of technology design and implementation is crucial, but it is only