“Why do we hate hospitals?”, Niels van Namen asks in his TED talk about the hospital of the future. He then goes on to list the awful smell and terrible food, the atmosphere of despondency, the long wait for a doctor, the journey to the hospital and the cost of stay. He even cites the frightening statistics that 64% of Americans avoid hospital care due to its cost.

It quickly becomes evident, once you start considering all the factors, that the role hospitals currently play in healthcare needs to change. In order for patients to receive efficient quality care, new cost-effective solutions need to be introduced that not only pose no inconvenience for them but are also associated with no unnecessary spending on either part.

And because December is a month for evaluation and planning ahead for the future, we at FindMeCure decided to take a look at what these solutions are most likely to be. To simply come to the conclusion that things need to change is not enough if you have no idea as to what direction that change might go.

So, in continuation to the discussion about patient-centered care that we’ve been part of since the beginning of the blog, this week we’re going to imagine the hospital of the future based on the most recent trends in technology, research, and health service.

 

Home-care and telemedicine are on their way  

 

Niels van Namen makes a strong case for taking healthcare out of the hospital whenever possible. Not only can unnecessary hospitals stay costs can be reduced both for hospitals and for patients, but patients’ experience can also be improved.

If a chronically ill patient doesn’t have to make a few hours long journey two to three times a week in order for doctors to assess his or her condition during treatment, that leaves more time for the patient for things that improve his or her quality of life – like connecting with loved ones or participating in favorite activities and hobbies.

At first, this may seem like insignificant concern and not much of a reason to consider home health care a good option. However, quality of life can improve treatment outcome as the connection between mental and physical well-being is beginning to be more widely recognized and according to some research, a healthy social life can even result in natural longevity. Unfulfilling social life, on the other hand, stress and emotional turmoil can all increase the physical sensation of pain and even worsen disease symptoms.

And if these are not compiling enough factors, consider the case of terminally ill patients who only have months to live but spend a fourth of their remaining time in the hospital for regular check-ups that can easily be done at home.

With recent technological developments routine procedures like monitoring, administering of drugs, taking blood are not out of reach. Just last month we talked about a new device that could administer the right doses of insulin based on the patient’s blood sugar levels, so monitoring all other vitals digitally and sending the data to your doctor is beginning to sound like the next logical step. Not only does it save time both for the doctor and the patient, not only does it save money (think the cost of travel and missing work), but it’s also fast, easy and reliable, providing exact measurements.  

It’s called telemedicine and it was first created to be affordable and accessible for patients in rural areas that were a long way from the nearest hospital. But with technology advancing faster than we can grasp and incorporate in our day-to-day lives, things that are now a novelty will soon be the norm and we’ll even consider them old news.

 

Hospitals are not going anywhere

 

Even with chronic illnesses being managed at home, technology connecting medical staff and patients and routine procedures made easier to perform by the patients via new devices, centers for the treatment of acute conditions, accidents or access to specialized equipment are still going to be needed.

Some changes, however, could benefit both staff and patients. Technology here plays a huge role as well. The hospital room of the future, for example, is, according to TIME, equipped with a monitor that displays the patient’s medical record as well as his or her vitals and it sends a signal to the staff is an unexpected change in his or her condition occurs.

Under the patient’s bed, there is a mat that measures the patient’s weight when they step out of bed and should the patient fall, it immediately lets the nurses know. An iPad connects the patient to the outside world via Skype and it can also allow them to catch up on their favorite show, dim the lights, draw the curtains or create whatever atmosphere they find soothing. The promise of comfort includes canceling the noise from everything going on outside the room.

The infrastructure of the hospital is about to change too but there is no clear consensus among experts as to how exactly. Whether larger, specialized hospitals, located near university campuses (also referred to as “academic medical centers”) are the future, or a type of hub-like smaller buildings purposed for the treatment of acute conditions and emergencies with short-stay hospital beds are more likely to emerge, there is no clear answer yet.

It’s likely that both models of the hospital can co-exist, at least for a while, until a new development makes one or the other obsolete. For now, however, both types are talked about as viable alternatives to what we have now. It’s quite possible that how hospital infrastructure changes will eventually depend on the country, it’s population distribution and health needs, as well as on the economic model that could better support one or the other.

 

Interior is no small deal

 

As patients’ needs emerge as a leading incentive for change designing hospitals around their comfort is bound to be an even bigger trend in the future.

Again, there is no unified understanding of how these patient-centered hospitals are going to look like. There is the idea of ‘front-stage, back-stage’ design, where patient areas are separated from treatment rooms, surgical theaters and even administrative staff areas in a whole another part of a large, otherwise monolith building. Other changes, like wall-to-ceiling windows that allow the natural light in and an easily accessible garden instead of a waiting roomcould be introduced to improve patients’ experience. The goal is to create a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere, away from the usual chaos.

The idea of ‘villages’ also sounds interesting, the main goal being clinicians going to the patients for consultations instead of the other way around. And with conversations about sustainability and green energy, the question of how to take advantage of natural resources via shifts in architecture and construction begs to be considered.

With superbugs becoming a bigger issue, the introduction of intrinsically bacteria-resistant surfaces in hospitals, as well as far-UV lights in surgical theaters and possibly even in every area of the hospital, is beginning to sound like an urgent measure.

Whatever the future holds for hospitals exactly, one thing has become clear – healthcare is changing toward more patient-centered approaches by the hour. Developments in technology are sure to increase accessibility and make health more affordable than ever, while new demands for sustainability are bound to transform hospitals into eco-friendly locations build with comfort in mind, instead of the dreaded intimidating places they’ve been for far too long.

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