Smart Hospital Design: Technology’s Potential Impact on the Future of Healthcare (part one)
Quickly advancing digital technological innovations are changing the game in healthcare design. Emerging technologies offer the opportunity to improve operational functioning and patient care. As designers, we’re always aware of the operational concerns about the impact these innovations can have on the human-based elements of healthcare, such as a reduction in face-to-face interaction and employment of hospital staff.
In our recent company-wide Friday Morning Breakfast workshop, Parkin explored some of the potential applications of smart technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in healthcare design. Workshop participants across the country explored several thought-provoking questions about how healthcare operations could be helped or hindered by such technologies. We discussed how design can best leverage available and soon-to-be-available technologies, and what potential challenges these could present for patient care, healthcare employment opportunities, and equal distribution of quality patient care.
Smart technology is addressing patient, staff, and community needs in increasingly clever ways. If we leverage innovation by integrating these technologies into our designs, we can help facilities play a holistic role in patient care and helping to heal the sick. Smart design is not so much about using the latest gadgets, but more about designing and optimizing a set of meaningfully interconnected devices and systems that can improve efficiency and the patient experience, while also addressing fatigue and stress for healthcare staff.
Healthcare Applications for Smart Technologies
Smart technologies can be applied in hospitals and other healthcare systems for operational tasks such as delivering medications or to supplement regular cleaning of patient rooms. Automated guided vehicles are already in use at Humber River Hospital in Toronto to carry and deliver non-narcotic medications, bedding, food, and other supplies.
Air quality and environmental monitoring ensure that areas are safe while also automatically adjusting for energy efficiency. Smart sensors can alert maintenance staff when lightbulbs or filters need to be changed.
Location sensors and wearables can track where patients are. This enhances safety, especially for children and new-borns. If a young patient leaves or is removed from an authorized area, or an unauthorized attempt to remove the tag is attempted, smart systems can lock down elevators and exit doors and trigger alarms for staff.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interrelated devices, machines, or objects that collect and transfer data over a connected network, without human direction. Most of us have smart devices in our own homes today, such as smartphones, TVs, lights, and even refrigerators and stoves. In a hospital setting, IoT allows systems to work together by integrating sensors, actuators, and other Internet devices via existing networks. IoT technology can facilitate diagnoses and follow-up with patients while increasing the efficient use of hospital resources.
The ‘Internet of Medical Things’
Wearable technologies such as smart watches provide opportunities to vastly improve monitoring of health data such as fall detection, sleep monitoring, food consumption, water intake, heart rate, temperature, sedative/ medication tracking, and glucose monitoring. Smart toilets can even analyze patients’ excreta for personalized health monitoring.
This could potentially mean that hospital patients can be monitored by remote medical professionals, and that home-care patients can safely stay in the comfort of their own homes. Health facility resources would also be saved.
The Decentralizing Role of Artificial Intelligence
Connectivity and seamless coordination will mark the successful designs of hospitals of the future. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a fast-growing technology that will be inducted into the everyday operations of our world, especially in healthcare facilities. From maintaining constant room temperatures, to gathering and analysing aggregated data, AI will influence architectural design in a data-rich world. As the technology improves at a rapid pace, architects will need to always be planning for obsolescence and maximizing flexibility by designing infrastructure that facilitates inevitable upgrades, while accommodating minimal disruption to a facility’s day-to-day functioning.
Wearable and insertable monitoring devices are fostering better outcomes for patients because diagnostics can be carried out in home environments. These devices will likely decentralize healthcare delivery. An upgraded approach to system design will become more imperative. As architects and designers, we should expand our methodology to think in terms of systems and platforms. Our ability to integrate disparate data and physical building requirements into a singular solution will help us to deliver designs that meet the needs of a facility’s diverse stakeholders.
In part two of this series, we’ll explore the social impacts of smart design in healthcare facilities and how design solutions can address them.