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Smart Hospital Design: Technology’s Potential Impact on the Future of Healthcare (part two)

In our last blog post, we explored some of the technologies that will create the smart hospitals of tomorrow. This month, we’ll look at how, as designers, we can plan for future innovation while also addressing some of the potential pitfalls to which adopting new technologies can lead.

In one of our recent company-wide Friday Morning Breakfast workshops, the Parkin team looked at the potential of smart technology in the healthcare sector. We also discussed possible challenges and implications that these innovations might have for patients and staff in the future. Technology will transform the healthcare sector and designers can ensure that decisions made today have positive impacts on patients and staff in the future.

Five Considerations

In this workshop, we had a productive and collaborative discussion on the following 5 critical questions which addressed “How can this technology”:

  • Help or hinder a sustainable, healthy environment?
  • Help or hinder patient care?
  • Help or hinder healthcare accessibility (remote areas, economic classes)
  • Help or hinder facility operations? (e.g., waiting areas)
  • Help or hinder hospital staffing?

Designing for Sustainability

When discussing environmental impacts, we asked ourselves how implementing new technologies affects additional energy resources and heat emission. Canada is one of the top 5 largest carbon emitters per capita out of 68 countries. As we aim to meet net-zero emissions by 2050, how do new technologies add to our carbon footprint?

When we’re designing or renovating healthcare facilities, there are three scopes of emissions: the facility’s energy use; those of secondary providers; and our supply chains. Our carbon-neutral solutions can ensure that a facility’s life cycle will include recapturing carbon energy for re-use. New technologies can also reduce the need for patients to physically visit a facility for regular check-ups. This addresses many of the tertiary carbon stresses for a facility.

Improving Patient Care

When we’re ill, a convergence of technologies and situations are important for our well-being. While face-to-face care is a crucial element to healing and care, being able to convalesce at home may improve health outcomes. Wearable technologies, smart toilets and other devices that monitor daily health, can help remote medical teams ensure that urgent care is available when needed.

This might mean that expensive bed spaces could be freed up for acute care, while systems design would need to build in space for potential homecare patients who would be otherwise located in the facility. Part of our design process will need to address new workflows and coordination for offsite care.

Healthcare Accessibility

Equality care could be compromised if smart hospital construction is reserved for wealthier neighbourhoods, creating a discrepancy in quality of patient care and possibly in quality of work environment and roles for hospital staff. Smart hospitals provide more assistance to staff, so top doctors, nurses, and other staff may prefer to work in smart facilities. A solution should be explored to mitigate this effect, potentially with a large-scale roll out of smart hospitals or gradual introduction of additions of certain aspects to existing facilities to create a standardized practice throughout all areas.

Crucially, new imaging tools and augmented reality capabilities will give people living in remote areas access to specialists who may be thousands of kilometres away. Augmented Reality can also be used for training of clinicians and staff in remote areas, which can lead to better access to care for local patients.

Facility Operations

Integration of technology could reduce the need for hospital spaces dedicated to waiting areas and parking, redistribute space to patient-focused areas, and implement additional green spaces to promote healthier and more human-focused environments.

Options like virtual sign-in or virtual appointments could work to reduce in-person wait times and stress for patients and visitors. These options remove a barrier to care for individuals who struggle with the idea of human interaction, especially if anxiety is associated with waiting rooms or crowds. On the other hand, Artificial Intelligence technologies that reduce clerical responsibilities could enable more face-to-face interactions for those who need that level of care.

Hospital Staffing

As we move toward a more automated healthcare delivery system, concerns about job loss need to be addressed. Automation like self-driving vehicles that have been adopted at Humber River Hospital could risk putting workers out of a job. With conflicting priorities in the Canadian healthcare delivery system, however, these devices can take on the tasks that free up staff to take on higher level responsibility and help offset the costs of those staff members. For example, staff could be freed up to focus on small details while robots and automatic cleaning devices do broad strokes like cleaning and delivering bedding and gowns.

Smart workflows that integrate robots can help to reduce staff fatigue and ultimately reduce the possibility of human error. With an aging population coupled with a nursing and staffing shortage, the thoughtful integration of these new tools could help ensure that health outcomes are positive for more patients. Automation reduces costs for menial tasks leaving room in budgets to staff higher paying positions.

Next Steps

With all these considerations in mind, the Parkin team continues to collaborate with our clients and consultants to creatively integrate new technologies into our projects to meet the goals of all the stakeholders in a new facility design or renovations. The team works with clients to re-evaluate master plans and operations by looking through the lens of possibility that new technologies offer.

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