August 5, 2014
Grace Paul, RID, LEED AP BD+C

Technology is a part of our lives often from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night.  It is the tool patients and families use to communicate, educate and reassure themselves in uncertain times. As designers we are also finding technology to be a major design driver on most of our projects.  We have the unique opportunity to knit together architecture and technology to create dynamic spaces that are not intrusive and impersonal but are instead supportive of patient and family needs.

As many of us have become accustomed to the airport check-in kiosks, the use of patient kiosks at registration areas is a way to avoid bottlenecks at the beginning of a patient’s experience.  In some institutions this type of streamlining is also used to track room availability and reduce wait times.  For patients unfamiliar or uncomfortable with this type of process support staff must be adequate to provide a personal experience that does not contribute to an often already stressful situation.

Waiting areas are truly spaces in transition.  Some institutions are decentralizing waiting areas in favor of smaller, department specific spaces.  The expectations of waiting area amenities have risen to include robust wi-fi, technology integrated furniture, ample charging stations and laptop friendly work areas.  For families waiting hours on end these “amenities” become an important tool to help pass the time.  The increased use of personal devices is reducing the need for a television and the drone associated with them that can contribute to stress. 

Personal devices that use apps for tracking a person’s health habits and healthcare needs are a growing segment of the healthcare market.  The ability for the apps to communicate to a physician an imbalance in blood sugar, dangerously high blood pressure or any other number of measurable health issues may result in empowering patients becoming more involved in their own treatment.  This real-time technology may also reduce the need for some of the more traditional devices used in exam and consult areas allowing these areas to be multi-functional. 

In clinical spaces technology and equipment has done anything but shrink to the size of an app on a phone.  It is not uncommon to have multiple screens in ORs up to 100” in size.  ORs are growing in size and complexity.  Spaces such as hybrid-ORs are combining technologies that previously resided in two or more spaces into a single, multi-function space.  The technology demands on patient rooms are also increasing by using hand-washing sensors, nurse locators and multiple data-gathering devices that support the growing trend for a more meaningful utilization of electronic medical records.

This is an exciting time in healthcare.  It is not inconceivable that the next 10 years could bring dramatic changes that eclipse many of the advances made in the last 100 years.  While it is difficult to anticipate what those changes may mean to the built environment, the need for flexible, modular types of construction will inevitably grow.  A modular approach will allow for evolving applications that support the dramatic shift we are likely to see within most of our lifetimes.

Posted in Health