Modern health care institutions are always looking for new ways to improve the experience of patients, and the hospitals of the future are always looking ahead.
Over the last few years, hospitals have seen increased competition. This has created a rivalry of sorts, as vying groups have begun to design the hospitals of the future, both in terms of helping patients and in creating a level of adaptability that will keep them competitive for years to come.
The results are some truly cool ideas mixed with practical advancements that will potentially help to save lives. There is also an increased emphasis on the overall aesthetics. The hospitals of the future will be one part medical facility, one part hotel.
The non-profit design firm NXT Health recently unveiled its concept for a futuristic hospital, known as “Patient Room 2020.” As Wired describes it, the group’s prototype room “fuses the best of the American Medical Association and the Apple Store with a few CCs of Tron thrown in for good measure.”
NXT Health’s futuristic facility is filled with curved white panels and brushed aluminum, which may become a staple of modern medical design, or it may be the style of one group. Either way, there are some universal constants in the healthcare industry that will continue on.
“Technology has to become the connective tissue that holds together the continuum of care,” said David Ruthven, project co-lead and creative director of Patient Room 2020. “Because there is infinite variability between physical environments.”
Regardless of the general aesthetics, here are a few of the traits the hospitals of the future will need.
To begin with, the hospitals of the future will need to be designed with information in mind – the ability to input and consume information quickly and anywhere. That starts with a networked system that connects the entire building.
Rooms in the hospitals of the future will include screens built into the walls, capable of displaying any and all vitals, chart data, and more. Hospital staff would also be able to type in data directly into built in interfaces, request tests, schedule follow ups, and more.
The more connected a hospital is, the faster patients can receive treatment. Tests could be sent down to the lab and the results could be entered digitally so the treating physician and nurses could receive a notification anywhere in the hospital. They could then pull up the complete results through any device, talk to the lab technicians, and more.
That will also require the hospitals of the future to have a significant server room and an IT staff on call. All staff will also need to have at least a modicum of tech training to boot. But in that, hospitals are no different than most industries.
There will also need to be an emphasis on sterilization techniques. You might assume – with good cause – that hospitals already put a huge amount of weight on this. And they do, but there are still ways to improve. Superbugs are an increasingly dangerous and costly consequence of hospital visits, with around 100,000 people dying each year from them.
Although it is far from the only cause, one reason for the increase in superbugs is a simple lack of proper hand washing. Some reports claim that hospital workers properly clean their hands just 30-percent of the time.
There have already been several methods for dealing with this attempted, from something as simple as encouraging hospital staff to wash their hands together so they can remind and encourage one another, to installing motion cameras in the ICU that activate when someone enters and sends video to a monitoring station tasked with watching to ensure hands are being washed.
Others still are using electronic tracking badges. The staff each wear a bracelet that identifies them, while each sink is equipped with chips. Records then show who washed their hands and when, as well as time stamp data to show when that person used the sink. That helps to establish patterns including who washed up before a procedure and who didn’t.
The hospitals of the future may try one of those methods, or opt for something new that hasn’t been used before. It is something that needs to be addressed though.
Hospitals will be among the most sophisticated commercial structures in the world, which comes with a severe downside – they will need to be upgraded constantly.
The hospitals of the future will need to be adaptable, to a degree, with the tech hidden away out of sight. Walls will feature panels that can be removed, revealing hollow areas filled with components that can be swapped out and upgraded as necessary.
At one point, there may even be completely modular rooms, which feature sections that can be fully removed and replaced as needed. Rather than having multiple, specialized rooms, hospital staff could swap out components and turn any modular room into a specialized room in minutes. One minute a room could be a used for someone recovering from surgery, the next it could be set up for someone to give birth, or anything else that is called for.
In the event of a crisis – a natural disaster, for example – entire hospital wings could be customized for specific events. The hospitals of tomorrow won’t just be one thing, they will be many.
The hospitals of the future will need a significant amount of energy, and more importantly, they can’t be fully reliant on the local power grid. Today, hospitals typically have a series of backup generators that can keep the facility running for a limited time in the case of a major power outage. With more power hungry structures needed in the future, the backup generators won’t last long.
The hospitals of the future will ideally be able to make their own energy and then store it. The simplest way may be to line the roof of the hospitals with solar panels and then store that energy to create a surplus, similar to what Tesla is offering with its solar roof shingles and its Powerwall.
The environmental benefits would be significant, but more importantly, the hospital would not need to fear a power outage. With solar power, it would be unaffected by the problems of the local power grid, even in the event of a natural disaster. And if there is some problem with the solar energy – massive clouds of smoke, for example – the stored energy would be enough to keep things running long enough for the solar cells to begin generating again,
Instead of waiting in lengthy lines, patients in the future will be able to check in right away. They will be greeted by cognitive computers powered by AI, which can quickly determine the type of injury or illness and direct the patient in the proper direction.
On top of that, the AI will be able to pull up the patient’s medical history. If it is a recurring issue, the AI might even be able to do a very simple diagnosis, but more likely it will collect all the information it can and then send it to the doctors and nurses. They will then have a huge head start on treating the patient, significantly cutting wait times down.
Sooner or later, robots will also be used to help with surgical techniques. That might be a long way off, but the hospitals of the future will be partially automated. At the very least, a robot might be able to do simple tasks like x-ray someone to cut down the wait time.
While many of the changes in tomorrow’s hospitals will be behind-the-scenes, at least as far as patients are concerned, one of the most visible changes will be to the hospital rooms.
It has long been theorized, both through scientific research and anecdotal evidence, that good environments help with healing. The hospitals of the future will take that into account in an attempt to ensure that a patient’s stay is as pleasant as possible
How each hospital will approach this is ultimately a matter of taste, but there will be a new respect for aesthetic and design in the rooms. Some will even go a step further and introduce wall sized screens that will offer patients a soothing virtual environment based on their preferences.
In rooms with a limited view and space constraints, that could make the rooms feel significantly more welcoming. Plus, the screens will have other uses as well, as noted above. The question is simply how to keep the costs down. There’s no easy answer to that, but if there’s one industry that has resources, it’s health care.
The Future is Now
The health industry is one of the few that is nearly (although not entirely) immune to the economy. There will always be funding, private and public, and there will always be the need for new medical facilities.
No one likes to go to go to a medical facility if they don’t have to. That won’t change anytime soon, but the hospitals of the future will help to take the sting off a bit.