In architectural school, we studied ancient Roman bathhouses: huge public facilities citizens used for physical therapy and relaxation. They had running water, but no hygiene or sanitization. They were harbingers of disease. After two thousand years hospitals have evolved, they dramatically improved healthcare. How much better are they?
While hospitals have transformed slowly, the current COVID-19 pandemic could be the catalyst for providing future improved healthcare.
The outlook for healthcare will lie in embracing rapidly evolving new technologies such as AI, Artificial Intelligence, VR, virtual reality, 3-D printing, robotics, and nanotechnology. Healthcare will involve integrated delivery networks working with labs, clinics and primary care providers to keep our communities healthy and safe.
The sterile, monolithic clinics with endless corridors and windowless rooms must give way to well-lit friendly environments, with gardens and exercise areas. With the diminishing supply of doctors and health care providers, we will see virtual appointments become the norm. Telehealth is here to stay.
A study by Intel Corp of providers projected worldwide healthcare will focus on personalization and technology. 57% of those surveyed considered traditional hospitals will be obsolete in the future and 91% expect AI to be widespread. Interestingly, the study also found 72% were receptive to video conferencing for non-urgent care. https://newsroom.intel.com/news-releases/u-s-healthcare-leaders-expect-widespread-adoption-artificial-intelligence-2023/
Let’s start with the waiting room, the first point of entry. Sitting in a room full of sick people is needless. Upon entry, there should be a body scan at the touch-free automatic doors for infectious temperatures. Waiting rooms with alcoves and private areas for social distancing and conferencing should be standard throughout the hospital.
The front office must change. With immediate electronic messaging, updates, and instantaneous record retrieval, a completed patient portal is available for the clinician.
Robotics and nanotechnology for microscopic surgery are here now. With robotics and AI, more people can be treated. And, this might be scary to some, but remote surgeries are on the horizon.
Surgery rooms will have VR projections for surgeons to follow and research other procedures simultaneously. A Harvard study showed VR trained surgeons had a 230% boost in overall performance. https://hbr.org/2019/10/research-how-virtual-reality-can-help-train-surgeons. Hospitals must be far more flexible to accommodate both future pandemics and everyday emergencies.
Patients are chiming in on facility design. More privacy, sound control, ample natural and dimmable light, patient real-time access to records, and less 24/7 uncomfortable bed rest that has limited therapeutic value if not punctuated with simple exercises.
Not enough hospitals have doctor and staff “social escape areas”. Besides the cafeteria, which is generally public, private relaxation areas for professional interface and unwinding. This is where collaboration and good solutions evolve best.
Decentralized outpatient clinics, same day surgery centers and freestanding emergency rooms that act as transfer centers to the appropriate care facilities are coming. Micro-hospitals, historically operationally expensive, are now efficient and more effective. Remote home patient monitoring with digital technology is here now.
The future will be creating physical, holistic and virtual environments for patient-centric care at lower costs. Healthcare will never be free but should solve tomorrows evolving health challenges more successfully.
Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB