How technology advances are dictating hospital design
Healthcare design has changed dramatically over the past 40 years since I have been working in the industry. Years ago, the focus was simply on the functional requirements of a healthcare facility, but that is no longer the case. Today, healthcare facilities must meet new demands and be able to adapt to changing technologies rapidly. They are competing for patients and physicians, and facilities are an important factor in both parties’ decisions to visit or work for a healthcare provider.
In the 80s, healthcare had to restructure and adapt to new reimbursement policies. This gave birth to the outpatient facilities that are commonplace in the market today. But these types of facilities are drastically different than traditional hospitals, both in their design and function.
The 1990s brought new digital breakthroughs that further changed healthcare. Medical equipment companies invested in new technologies and brought digital enhancements for medical imaging. Images can now be transferred and read remotely by doctors.
Technology in healthcare has continued to evolve, bringing new efficiencies and delivering more comprehensive definitive diagnoses. Patients no longer need travel to receive a treatment, procedure, or simple examination. New facilities continue to adapt to meet this change, and as architects, we must constantly be aware of new trends and understand their uses to help our healthcare clients.
Some advancements in basic equipment are as simple as patient beds that now have Bluetooth, which can report the patient’s status, such as temperature, weight, and even positioning. Nurse call systems can track and record the length of response time to a patient. In-room televisions that provide hospital services, food menu options, and nurse service boards are becoming commonplace. And the technology continues to advance rapidly, placing new demands on facilities and the designers that serve them.
Recently, three separate healthcare clients incorporated new technologically enhanced systems and devices to deliver telemedicine to patients. A rural-based healthcare system that could not obtain specialists to work in their hospital had the vision to use telemedicine to provide the necessary care to its population without having them be transferred or consider a different hospital due to the lack of specialty care.
The solution allows specialists to observe, monitor, and communicate with patients and staff and has become part of the design criteria in the future Intensive Care Unit renovation. The solutions demand specific design components, including the correct light temperature and location to allow proper visual imaging by remote doctors, wall colors that would not influence skin tone, and high-resolution cameras and video monitors.
The camera resolution enables the specialists to zoom in to view the actual patient's retina from twelve feet away. The system also allows the patient to communicate directly with the specialist who might be thousands of miles out. All orders are recorded electronically for the in-house physicians and nursing staff to follow and administer the required care. Remarkably, this system transmits the patient’s vital signs to the remote physician in real-time.
Other technology systems that have been incorporated into some of our healthcare projects include a Beacon system that works in conjunction with mobile devices. Once a patient uploads their appointment into their phone through the hospital’s portal or app, their mobile device becomes a tracking device that greets them and provides a pathway in the facility to explain where the patient needs to report. This is akin to using your phone to navigate your vehicle, providing turn-by-turn directions and visual maps.
We are also involved in a beta site test to install a digital device placed in a physician's practice. The system records all conversations held, creates voice recognition to identify if the voice belongs to the patient or physician, and then creates a word transcription for the physician to review and make additional notes or corrections. This is added to the patient’s electronic record, eliminating the need for the physician to dictate and have a service transcribe it.
The medical world is changing rapidly, and design considerations must reflect the latest technology advancements, patient care requirements, and physician demands to be successful. A collaborative approach to design will help ensure all parties are engaged and involved to be successful.