Bridging the Gaps Between Technology and Healthcare Design Ravideep Singh
How healthcare designers can pave the way for digital healthcare
Technology has transformed the world in leaps and bounds over the past hundred years. However, like every other domain, healthcare hasn’t been untouched by the digital epoch. With ubiquitous technology, healthcare design is progressing towards advances in medicine. This new era has given birth to terms like telemedicine, e-hospitals, cellular hospitals, etc., that are starting to be seen as the future of the healthcare industry.
Telemedicine or Telehealth is the contactless facilitation of healthcare services with the help of telecommunication. A patient can avail of a doctor’s contact, advice, care, and monitoring without physically visiting the hospital or clinic. With the help of technology and the growing acceptance of digital interactions, patients’ health will soon be monitored by intelligent infrastructure remotely by doctors and nurses. For instance, wearable devices will collect relevant data such as sugar and blood pressure levels from patients and send it to the doctors as a transcription of medical records. A successful example of this technology is Nocturnal Hemodialysis, called ‘dialysis for the new millennium’  by the National Library of Medicine, United States. Nocturnal Hemodialysis can happen when the patient is asleep at home at night. The development of ‘Remote Patient Monitoring’ or RPM has strengthened this system, where patients and caregivers can access the data recorded by RPM devices, thus facilitating contactless treatment. Such examples show that healthcare is rapidly advancing towards a tech-integrated system.
With rapidly advancing technology, healthcare researchers are focused on orienting the healthcare system towards a physically disintegrated and digitally seamless care delivery model. In the near future, digital healthcare will incorporate IoT (Internet of things), make the best use of technology, and manifest into a model that is more efficient and resilient than the current one. The shift toward technology calls for architects and designers to synchronise their design process with digital healthcare.
Employing tools like Big Data and Artificial Intelligence will allow healthcare professionals and designers to comprehend patterns out of the already existing patient profiles and use them to create dynamic design layouts for hospitals that are reconfigurable. For example, cellular hospitals will soon be a more prevalent sight as compared to departmentalised hospitals. A cellular hospital will consist of a typical singular arrangement that would treat multiple ailments in one place. Instead of running around different departments, patients will be able to avail themselves of the treatments in one place.
Models such as telemedicine and cellular hospitals will drive healthcare design toward a digital future and a sustainable one, where the strain on hospital infrastructure and running costs will lessen drastically.
With the awareness of the existence of such technologies, it is equally important for healthcare designers and practitioners to be mindful of the logistics of reaching such infrastructure. Currently, there is an absence of healthcare data which can be a key for prediction and innovation in care delivery. Healthcare analytics and unified patient data can enable healthcare designers and practitioners to understand the social determinants of health. Availability of such data will allow the curation of tailored policies based on regions, age groups, etc., that effectively combat community-specific issues. For example, the high prevalence of cancer found in some areas of Punjab is linked to certain carcinogens, such as uranium in drinking water, which are infiltrated through excessive use of pesticides in the agricultural state. If conducted in time, studies involving data and healthcare analytics can enable appropriate policy reforms, interventions, and programs for specific demographics, resulting in life-saving healthcare services. These studies will also allow architects and planners to design proper infrastructure to render high-quality medical care to those in need and focus on patient safety, satisfaction, and comfort. Additionally, it will streamline future care delivery by constantly collecting and analysing patient data through tech-enabled infrastructure.
Healthcare designers can catalyse a seamless transition to digital and smart healthcare. Incorporating research in care delivery, equipment technology, and analysis in the planning stages will result in flexible infrastructure. This is critical since diagnostic and surgical procedures are rapidly evolving. Healthcare designers must work with practitioners to reconfigure infrastructural needs for the next decade to analyse and develop alternate planning scenarios for repurposed hospital areas.
Substantial steps in the research and development of such schemes are underway, and the future seems promising. The involvement of tech giants is also anticipated in the years to come. With architects and designers working in partnership with doctors, researchers and tech giants, an evolved healthcare ecosystem awaits.