The healthcare architect

Architect Stefanie Vonhoff and her team plan the hospital departments of the future — with the help of 3D visualization, extended reality, and digital twins.
Katja Gäbelein
Published on July 8, 2024
Stefanie Vonhoff chuckles as she recalls the mountains of paperwork that filled the offices of her earlier architectural firms. Dusty sketch rolls cluttered every corner and the drawers were overflowing. That was before she joined Siemens Healthineers as an architect 16 years ago. 
<p><br>For Stefanie Vonhoff, a mother of four raising her two youngest children on her own, a career change marked a venture into the unknown terrain of hospital planning — one of the "supreme disciplines" of architecture in terms of complexity. Ever since, Vonhoff has been planning a wide variety of hospital wards with her colleagues in the <a href="https://www.siemens-healthineers.com/services/value-partnerships/portfolio-modules/design-planning">Facility Design &amp; Planning Services</a> department, which is part of the Enterprise Services unit. She is now team lead of the Partnership Projects group.</p>

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<p>The 65-strong multidisciplinary team that makes up the Facility Design &amp; Planning Services department includes architects, technology planners, 3D experts, <a href="CAD">CAD</a> engineers, and software developers.</p>

CAD stands for computer-aided design. Architects and engineers use CAD software to create 2D and 3D models of plans or components. The models enable precise visualization and design before actual implementation.

Portrait photo of Stefanie Vonhoff. She wears a beige blazer and black glasses and can be seen just up to her shoulder. She stands in front of a window with a white curtain and smiles at the camera.

<p>"What I love about my job is the diversity of people and professional groups I get to work with. And also that everything here is digital and efficient," says Vonhoff. As she speaks, she surveys a large number of colored digital boxes on her computer screen. This is a project management tool developed in-house at Siemens Healthineers. With it, she can see the status of ongoing customer projects around the globe. The Facility Design &amp; Planning Services <a href="team">team </a>executes some 8,000 planning projects in around 80 different countries every year.&nbsp;<br><br>From her computer, Vonhoff designs layouts for more or less anything conceivable in the clinical sector: radiology, cardiology, and nuclear medicine departments, therapy centers, emergency departments, and much more. Sometimes entirely new buildings are needed, and sometimes the task is to modernize or expand existing facilities. Vonhoff acquired the necessary specialized knowledge of medical technology step by step. “And I learn something new every day,” she says with a laugh.<br><br></p>

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<p>Countless factors have to be taken into account when planning hospitals, Vonhoff explains: "How can large-scale equipment such as CT or MRI scanners be moved into buildings, especially if they don't fit through the doorways? How do we best position MRI scanners to prevent imaging interference caused by moving masses of metal, such as cars, trains, or elevators? How do we ensure that all users of these facilities are able to clearly find their way around?" These are just a few examples of the challenges hospital architects face.<br><br></p>
<p>People are at the heart of everything: In addition to enabling efficient treatment, the premises should offer a positive atmosphere that supports the patients' healing process. For instance, the design experts factor in daylight for this very purpose, as daylight can have a positive effect on the psyche.<br id="isPasted"><br>Intelligent space planning with optimized walking routes and workflows helps ease the work of personnel in their hectic daily hospital routines. When smart planning enables more patients to be examined and treated in less time, it can help people access medical care more quickly.</p>

<p>"We're able to give our customers comprehensive advice because we combine architectural and clinical know-how with knowledge of large-scale medical equipment, and technical expertise," says Vonhoff, with some pride. The team also involves clinical consultants such as physicians and nurses in its work.</p><p>Planning hospital departments efficiently requires an interplay of teamwork, technology, and direct exchange with customers. In addition to 2D and 3D visualizations, and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.siemens-healthineers.com/services/value-partnerships/portfolio-modules/design-planning/siteplanner-siteviewer">virtual and augmented reality tools</a> developed in-house at Siemens Healthineers, the multidisciplinary team uses digital twinning to simulate clinical workflows: "This enables our customers to get a clear picture of their departments and even walk through their facility virtually long before construction work actually begins," says Vonhoff.<br><br></p>

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<p>With the help of digital twinning and <a href="https://www.siemens-healthineers.com/services/value-partnerships/workflow-simulation" target="_blank">workflow simulation</a>, the team can identify at an early stage the areas that customers could potentially optimize. To do this, the team runs through various planning scenarios using virtual patients, virtual staff, and various virtual medical devices, and performs <a href="stress%20tests">stress tests</a>.</p><p>For example, Vonhoff and her team produced a simulation for a planned renovation of the MRI department at <a href="https://www.siemens-healthineers.com/services/value-partnerships/asset-center/customer-insights/red-cross-hospital-beverwjik-netherlands" target="_blank">Red Cross Hospital</a> in the city of Beverwijk in the Netherlands. In doing so, they uncovered potential for making its workflows more efficient.</p>

A stress test assesses resilience, such as a system's resilience to extreme loads. The aim is to identify weaknesses and develop measures for improvement.

<p>Vonhoff explains that she and her colleagues rarely visit the project construction sites. Rather, the Facility Design &amp; Planning Services team leverage their expertise to work with local architectural firms and revise existing draft plans on request. The actual onsite construction work is then carried out by architects and local construction firms.<br><br></p>
<p>In addition to the human-centered approach, which puts patients and medical staff at the heart of everything, the topic of sustainability is also receiving more and more attention in the face of climate change.<br><br></p>
<p>Vonhoff knows that hospital departments can be made more sustainable by, for instance, using resource-saving large diagnostic equipment. The <a href="MAGNETOM%20Flow">MAGNETOM Flow</a> scanner<sup>4</sup>, for example, is the first 1.5-tesla platform from Siemens Healthineers to feature virtually helium-free technology and reduced energy consumption.<br><br></p>

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<p>Vonhoff’s professional work is not the only part of her life that is guided by efficient planning. Her 16- and 17-year-old sons, Ben and Paul, still live at home with her. She has been juggling childcare and her career largely on her own as a single mother for 11 years. This demands a high degree of organization.</p>

<p>Vonhoff lives in a multigenerational housing project where fellow residents support her by, for example, helping to look after the family dog. Her job is also adaptable, thanks to flexible hours and the option of working from home.<br><br></p>
<p id="isPasted">Many challenges lie ahead for the hospitals of the future: demographic change, rising healthcare costs, a shortage of skilled workers, and the effects of climate change — to name just a few.</p>
Portrait photo of Stefanie Vonhoff. She is in her mid-50s, wears short gray hair, a beige blazer, a striking necklace and black glasses and can be seen up to her upper body. She stands in front of a window with a white curtain and smiles at the camera.

Together with her multidisciplinary team, Vonhoff will continue working to ensure that hospitals around the world remain a healing place for patients and the people who work there. She’ll continue drawing on her years of experience, with support from intelligent technology. And she’ll remain straightforward and efficient in her work – using as little paper as possible.

By Katja Gäbelein
Katja Gäbelein is a digital editor and content creator for multimedia content at Siemens Healthineers. She specializes in technology and innovation.