The Future of Healthcare Design (Part 1)

Care will extend beyond the hospital

In Part 1 of this three-part series, healthcare administrators and designers from around the U.S. share their views on how technology can connect patients and providers.

According to two 2021 McKinsey surveys:
40% of patients
prefer telehealth
55% of patients
are more satisfied with virtual visits

Our healthcare system is based on human interaction, so it might seem strange to think that care could be delivered over a screen. But virtual visits have been happening for years, and their acceptance has been accelerated by the pandemic. In fact, according to two 2021 surveys by consulting firm McKinsey, 40% of patients said they will prefer telehealth even after the pandemic is over, and 55% of patients reported higher satisfaction with virtual visits than in-person ones.

On-screen consultations are only the beginning. Advances in wearable technology, like sports watches that can monitor and report health data, and off-site diagnostic testing, like at-home COVID tests, could eliminate the need for patients to drive to hospitals or clinics for routine tests and exams.

“The theme of the future isn’t that technology replaces humans,” says architect and healthcare strategist Ashley Dias. “It lets humans be better humans. Technology doesn’t have to disrupt human connections; it can contribute to them, and that’s going to make healthcare more meaningful and more pleasant.”

“The theme of the future isn’t that technology replaces humans. It lets humans be better humans."
Ashley Dias, architect and healthcare strategist at Perkins&Will
Caring for hospital patients at home

As hospitals struggled to expand capacity during pandemic surges, many of them offered in-home care for lower-acuity patients in an attempt to free up resources for sicker ones. This has led to wider acceptance of the “hospital at home” model, which has been proven to result in reduced mortality rates and fewer readmissions to the hospital.

Shifting care to the home setting offers patients convenience and improved outcomes in familiar surroundings, says Eric Eskioglu, MD, MBA, a leading national healthcare physician executive. He predicts that people will soon be able to use technology installed in their own homes to test and monitor their vital signs, dispense medications, and share personal health data directly with their doctors. In this model, bedrooms, guest rooms, or hobby rooms could be quickly adapted for patient care when needed.

“The ‘hospital at home’ concept is not just putting a camera in a patient’s home and monitoring them,” Eskioglu says. “That’s a beginning. That’s a bare necessity. But there’s a lot more. I think rooms are going to be meta ready: We’re going to have three-dimensional experiences in these rooms. With a flip of a button, you should be able to convert a normal room in your house to a hospital at home if you need it.”

Listen to Eric Eskioglu discuss how homes might be designed to support healthcare.

Videoconferencing for telehealth visits

The U.S. government’s announcement that telehealth video calls would be reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid was a game-changer. As political support for telehealth grows over time, resource needs will shift, Dias says. She anticipates that less space will be needed for in-person exam rooms, and investments in communications infrastructure will boost connectivity. Meanwhile, exam and consultation rooms could be constructed in the metaverse.

Hospital administrators are conflicted about the need to invest in both “bricks and clicks,” or physical plant and virtual technology. “It’s absolutely a struggle to figure out where to allocate bandwidth, time, resources, all of the things that are finite to us today,” says Chris Nicholas, chief executive officer of Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada. “But we know that technology is our future. We’re journeying into a new frontier where technology will be the leading edge of healthcare as far as how we engage with our patients and how we provide care to them.”

Performing more procedures at community clinics

As technology improves, providers at smaller clinics will be able to perform more complex procedures and care for sicker patients. This is already the case for patients who need routine procedures in orthopedics, ophthalmology, and other fields. And the trend will continue. In fact, McKinsey has found that care services outside the hospital are the health industry’s fastest growing businesses.

“I think we’ll see more care being provided as close to the patient’s home as possible, so they don’t have to travel as far to get to get that care,” says Brian Crimmins, the recently retired vice president for facilities planning at Penn Medicine’s Lancaster General Health in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “It can be delivered at a local hospital in conjunction with the large regional hospital.”

"We're journeying into a new frontier where technology will be the leading edge of healthcare as far as how we engage with our patients and how we provide care to them.”
Chris Nicholas, chief executive officer at Renown Regional Medical Center
Connecting with patients via micro clinics

Another option for remote care could be small, virtually staffed “micro clinics” conveniently located in shopping centers, offices, and other public spaces. This solution represents a middle ground between telehealth visits, which provide face time but often lack measurable data, and the hospital at home model, which requires a significant investment in space and equipment for the homeowner and the provider.

Up next:

Despite the trend toward virtual and off-site care provision, in-person care will always be a crucial piece of the healthcare puzzle.

How can design innovations and new technology support patients and providers?

Check out Part 2